Last night, I had the privilege of attending the Global Health Council’s Annual Awards Banquet. During the banquet, Drs. Kamiar and ArashAlaei received the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights fortheir significant achievements in fighting HIV/AIDS in the face of seriousopposition. The awards banquet was aptly described by emcee Ray Suarez of PBS’ NewsHouras the “Oscars of global health.”
Indeed – the individuals and organizations honored were examples ofexcellence, ingenuity, and perseverance in the field of global health. Eachaward recipient shared stories from their work – a journalist described thepreventable death of a young child with whose mother she had worked; anacademic discussed how a failed malaria vaccine trial actually laid thefoundation for further scientific advances in health; and Mr. Suarez describeda hospital in Mozambique that served thousands of patients despite its lack ofrunning water.
The recipients’ stories captured a range of emotions. Tales of the tirelessefforts of doctors and other medical professionals who cared for their patientsgiven significant obstacles were truly inspiring. But recounts of thepreventable deaths that plague communities facing discrimination and otherabuse were angering. A general theme that emerged throughout the event was thatdeath and disease is not only linked to elements such as infection or injury,but to systematic human rights abuses that allow these elements to take root.
The evening was filled with inspirational stories from individualsworking on the front lines of global pandemics and other scourges, but oneawardee’s story certainly rose from the pack. Kamiar Alaei accepted the award on behalf of himself and his brother,who remains in Evin prison in Tehran, Iran. Making his first official public appearance since his release fromprison several months ago, Kamiar shared his story with those gathered there. He talked about how he and his brother sought to overcome the deeply-rootedstigma against people living with HIV/AIDS, and how their fervor for socialjustice extended even after they were arrested in 2008. While in prison, Kamiarand Arash continued to educate their fellow prisoners not only about HIV/AIDSbut about a range of public health issues. Kamiar discussed how he and Arash sought every opportunity to brightenthe lives of those around them.
While the evening was a celebration of their work, the event was marredby Arash’s absence. Kamiar remarked thatit was the first time he was doing something alone – that he had always workedalongside his brother. PHR joins Kamiarand his family in continuing to call for the release of Arash, and we remainhopeful that the brothers will be able to work alongside each other again soon.
As PHR’s Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin said when presenting Kamiarwith the award, “This is a bittersweet moment because even as we celebrate, ourcups are only half full tonight. Arash remains in prison in Tehran and weappeal to authorities to release him promptly to continue his vital work forthe health of his fellow Iranians, for populations in Central Asia andglobally.”
Since the brothers’ arrests in June 2008 an international campaignspearheaded by PHR has called for their release, engaging hundreds of leadingAIDS experts, health organizations, and thousands of supporters from more than80 countries.