Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the past 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema… And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. The articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
* * *
Minoo Mohraz was born in Tehran in 1946. She graduated from Tehran Medical School in 1970 and in 1973 received her degree as a specialist in infectious diseases. She has been teaching medicine for more than 35 years and has been chairman of the Iranian Research Center for HIV/AIDS since it was founded in 2005.
“There are few people who've challenged taboos in Iran as successfully as Dr. Minoo Mohraz, but then she had to,” reported NBC News. “Mohraz is Iran's foremost AIDS specialist.”
Among many other activities and responsibilities, Dr. Mohraz conducts research for the World Health Organization in infectious diseases, including AIDS. She has worked with the University of San Francisco on a program to identify patterns of risky sexual behavior.
Over the last decade, her primary project has been the development of an "Immuno-Modulator Drug" (IMOD), a herbal drug that protects those already infected with HIV from the spread of AIDS by strengthening the immune system. According to the Pasteur Institute of Iran, the drug consists of seven "completely native" Iranian herbs. Following a complete toxicology analysis of components in one of the best toxicology laboratories in Moscow, the same analysis was repeated in an Iranian lab.
Iranian health officials have praised Dr. Mohraz’s work, and last year President Rouhani presented her with a prestigious national science award. Not only has she had to fight AIDS, she has also had to combat ignorance, the prejudices of a traditional society and the shortcomings of national health policies when dealing with contagious infectious diseases.
“I was the first doctor in Iran to be concerned with the issue of AIDS at the time — nearly 20 years ago,” she said in an interview in 2007. “Many were afraid of the word alone.”
Lack of awareness has also hindered her fight against AIDS. “A lack of knowledge creates fear of the disease and of the patients afflicted by it,” says Dr. Mohraz. “This is why many people with AIDS don’t tell anyone, not even those closest to them. Some people with the disease in Iran don’t even tell their mothers and fathers, while others only tell their parents and siblings.”
Dr. Mohraz says there are even some parents who know about their children’s illness and yet choose to not visit them at treatment centers and clinics. While Mohraz accepts this is in part due to a lack of knowledge and education, she also thinks it is related to the fact that Iran is an Islamic country.
“Our Islamic tradition encourages a denial of the disease. Islamic countries don’t like to disclose that they have inappropriate sexual behaviors and they don’t like to discuss it,” she explains. “Officials prefer to discuss blood transfusions when discussing the transmission of AIDS, for example. I used to say to them, ‘Why are you discussing a secondary means for transmission? The main cause is sexual contact. Why don’t we talk to young people about that?’”
Despite the obstacles she has faced, Dr. Mohraz has brought about change in the field. And she has even managed to win the support of some of Iran’s top clerics in her efforts to fight AIDS, both in terms of the disease and the social factors that help to spread it.
Also in the series:
To read more stories like this, sign up to our weekly email.