Arash Alaei addresses audience members at the XIX International AIDS Conference after he and his brother, Kamiar Alaei, left, accepted the Elizabeth Taylor Award from Actress Sharon Stone

Kamiar Alaei, M.D.

Doctoral Candidate, School of Public Health
Director of International Programs, University at Albany

Arash Alaei, M.D.

Adviser for International Education, University at Albany

Advocating for Those With HIV and AIDS

By Carol Olechowski

Determined to overcome the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, brothers Kamiar Alaei, M.D., and Arash Alaei, M.D., developed harm-reduction programs in their native Iran. They created Global Health in the Middle East and Central Asia, an HIV/AIDS training program for regional health experts. And they founded a clinic where they treated, educated and offered emotional support to patients and families.

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president, however, the government withdrew its support for their work. During a visit home by Kamiar, then a School of Public Health intern traveling to conduct research at the family’s clinic, both physicians were arrested and held for several months without being charged. Finally, at a secret trial Dec. 31, 2008, Arash and Kamiar were charged with “communications with an enemy” and seeking to overthrow the government under Article 508 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code. At a press conference, Iranian Judiciary spokesperson Ali-Reza Jamshidi claimed the brothers were “linked to the CIA, backed by the U.S. government and State Department. … They recruited and trained people to work with different espionage networks to launch a velvet overthrow of the Iranian government.” Three weeks after the one-day trial, on Jan. 20, 2009, Kamiar and Arash were informed that they had been convicted. Arash was sentenced to six years at Tehran’s infamous Evin prison; Kamiar was sentenced to three years there but was released in December 2010. Arash was freed in August 2011.

Their work has earned the physicians many tributes. The most recent came July 21, during the opening ceremonies of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., when they received the Elizabeth Taylor Award “in Recognition of Efforts to Advocate for Human Rights in the Field of HIV.”

Arash is now adviser for International Education at UAlbany. Kamiar, director of International Programs, is a doctoral candidate at the School of Public Health.