Ninety percent of the women we help in the impoverished areas of Karaj received the virus through their husbands, many of whom contracted the virus in prison, where they are sharing needles for taking drugs or for tattoos. The rest of these women are heroin addicts and were infected by sharing needles. Most of these women are abandoned by their relatives. Since some of their husbands died of AIDS and left them head of their households, we try to find jobs or a source of income for them [Editor’s note: the Iranian government provides the necessary medicine to AIDS patients free of charge].
At the council, we also try to empower women so that they don’t try to hide their disease. What’s surprising is the behaviour of doctors and dentists, who have plenty of information about the disease, but still refuse to treat infected women. This is where we intervene. We introduce these women to doctors and dentists who are prepared to cooperate with us.
The problem is stigma attached to the disease in Iran. For example, the medical community in Karaj ostracized a female doctor who works with us, because she helped a mother infected with HIV deliver her child at the hospital. Other physicians told her that she had no right to deliver this woman’s baby in the same hospital where people without HIV go. Fortunately, her child was born healthy and didn’t have HIV.
“The medical community in one city ostracized a female doctor who helped deliver the baby of a mother with HIV”
We try to do everything we can to prevent infected women from committing suicide. We have a woman who set herself on fire from the neck down. We have also seen cases of women who want to get revenge by intentionally giving the virus to others. They think they can get revenge on the society that has turned them into outcasts. We try to prevent that, too, by talking to them about their anger.
Every month we give women between 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 Rials [about 30 to 60 euros] to spend on each of their children, on the condition that the child and the mother with HIV attend our meetings. We teach them how to deal with this disease, and how to tell people about their condition. We try to find them homes, we get psychiatrists to speak to them, and we take them out on picnics and trips every two weeks or so.