TEHRAN: The number of AIDS cases in Iran has soared over the past two decades, Health Minister Hassan Hashemi said Monday, warning the Islamic republic can not ignore the problem.
"This disease has increased by 80 percent annually, which is much higher than the rise in inflation or rents," he said, quoted in Shahrvand newspaper.
Hashemi criticised Iran's hush-hush policy on AIDS.
Extra-marital sex is strictly prohibited in Iran, punishable by whipping and imprisonment.
"The pattern has changed from transmission of the infection through drug injection to unprotected sexual intercourse," Hashemi said.
"We need to find new ways to fight AIDS and we should not be afraid to admit this is a problem of our society," said the minister.
"There was a time that AIDS was used ... to mock other societies, but now the entire world is struggling with this disease and we are no exception," Hashemi said.
Ali Sayyari, Iran's deputy health minister, blamed the phenomenon on satellite TV programmes, gyms and beauty salons, describing them as a "triangle of death".
According to UN statistics, the number of people in Iran living with HIV reached 71,000 in 2012.
Iran has moved to fight the spread of AIDS by making condoms easily available in shops and educating the public of the consequences of sex with multiple partners.
On Sunday, World AIDS Day, the government announced plans to distribute AIDS leaflets in schools and special kits across Iran to easily diagnose the disease.