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News: Iranian society

Iran wants to keep sexes apart in hospitals

AFP - Iran's conservative government is encouraging doctors and nurses to treat patients only of the same gender in a bid to bring healthcare in line with its Islamic laws, press reports said Tuesday.

Health minister Kamran Bagheri Lankarani said that hospitals should implement a 1998 parliament bill that stipulates segregation of sexes known as the "initiative to conform medical care with Sharia law."

"A council has been formed with two parliament members as observers to facilitate the enforcement of this law," the centrist Kargozaran newspaper quoted him as saying. "We have to respect patients' rights in health centers. A person with any kind of belief should be provided with service.

"Respecting patients' dignity and the 'conformity initiative' should be considered when building new hospitals," he said, adding that old health centers needed to be "corrected" as well.

It is not clear whether sexual segregation in hospitals would become mandatory under the initiative, which appears aimed at encouraging hospitals to keep unrelated men and women apart wherever possible.

Unrelated men and women are not allowed to touch each other under Islamic law. But the 1998 bill drew strong criticism and opposition from health workers who considered it impractical. Many also saw it as an insult to their professional values.

The initiative was shelved at the time partly due to insufficient numbers of qualified staff from each sex.

The strongest protest came from male gynecologists who said that segregation would put them out of business.

Since the Islamic revolution, Iranian male medical students have been barred from specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology, meaning that the only men practicing in these branches earned their qualifications abroad or before 1979.

The plan essentially targeted women seeking treatment in Iran's male-dominated healthcare service. However, Lankarani said that in future it could be men who would need an alternative as "67 percent of medical students are women."

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