Iraqi AIDS Patients Twice Stricken Under Saddam Hussein

On the ragged outskirts of Baghdad stands the ransacked remains of Iraq's only AIDS clinic -- a prison of shame and death where even the families of patients were quarantined. Since the fall of the regime, doctors, patients and their loved ones have hesitantly been breaking their silence to reveal a harrowing glimpse of HIV infection under Saddam Hussein. "The patients and their families were treated like prisoners in guarded secret locations because the government decided that there was no AIDS in the country," said hospital Director Dr. Karim Nada.

The Ibn Zuhur hospital's main point of entry is barred by an ominous sign warning: "Do Not Enter. You Will Contract Infectious Diseases." The special HIV wing, set well apart from the rest of the facility, was deserted April 7 by the last AIDS patients, three women and two children. It was here where the sick and their relatives were detained, unable to have visitors or to leave, under permanent guard until their death.

Dr. Ali Hussain said he "will never forget the agony of these patients. We did not have any adequate treatment for them when the AIDS virus was discovered. Some of them died suffering abominably." Families had nothing but soothing words to alleviate their suffering, Hussain added.

For the families, sorrow continued after death because they were prevented from viewing the remains of loved ones, which were sealed inside double coffins and buried in two secret cemeteries in Baghdad. A mother of two hemophiliac children who contracted HIV from contaminated blood grieves that she "was never able to embrace the remains" of one of her children. "They did not let us bury our dead because the men of the regime conducted experiments on their bodies, which was like continuing to torture them," she said.

Iraq registered its first HIV/AIDS case in 1986. Since then, 180 patients were officially tallied. Iraqi doctors, however, say the real number exceeds several hundred.

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