Alaeis Honored at Global Health Council Event
Last night, I had the privilege of attending the Global Health Council’s Annual Awards Banquet. During the banquet, Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei received the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights for their significant achievements in fighting HIV/AIDS in the face of serious opposition. The awards banquet was aptly described by emcee Ray Suarez of PBS’ NewsHour as the “Oscars of global health.”
Indeed – the individuals and organizations honored were examples of excellence, ingenuity, and perseverance in the field of global health. Each award recipient shared stories from their work – a journalist described the preventable death of a young child with whose mother she had worked; an academic discussed how a failed malaria vaccine trial actually laid the foundation for further scientific advances in health; and Mr. Suarez described a hospital in Mozambique that served thousands of patients despite its lack of running water.
The recipients’ stories captured a range of emotions. Tales of the tireless efforts of doctors and other medical professionals who cared for their patients given significant obstacles were truly inspiring. But recounts of the preventable deaths that plague communities facing discrimination and other abuse were angering. A general theme that emerged throughout the event was that death 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 individuals working on the front lines of global pandemics and other scourges, but one awardee’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 from prison several months ago, Kamiar shared his story with those gathered there. He talked about how he and his brother sought to overcome the deeply-rooted stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS, and how their fervor for social justice extended even after they were arrested in 2008. While in prison, Kamiar and Arash continued to educate their fellow prisoners not only about HIV/AIDS but about a range of public health issues. Kamiar discussed how he and Arash sought every opportunity to brighten the lives of those around them.
While the evening was a celebration of their work, the event was marred by Arash’s absence. Kamiar remarked that it was the first time he was doing something alone – that he had always worked alongside his brother. PHR joins Kamiar and his family in continuing to call for the release of Arash, and we remain hopeful that the brothers will be able to work alongside each other again soon.
As PHR’s Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin said when presenting Kamiar with the award, “This is a bittersweet moment because even as we celebrate, our cups are only half full tonight. Arash remains in prison in Tehran and we appeal to authorities to release him promptly to continue his vital work for the health of his fellow Iranians, for populations in Central Asia and globally.”
Since the brothers’ arrests in June 2008 an international campaign spearheaded by PHR has called for their release, engaging hundreds of leading AIDS experts, health organizations, and thousands of supporters from more than 80 countries.