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Iran (Islamic Republic of): Background

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With an estimated population of 71.4 million, Iran is the most populous country in the region, and the 16th most populous in the world. With a Gross Domestic Product of US$110 billion, Iran is the second largest economy in the region. It is also the second largest Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil producer and has the world's second largest reserves of gas. The human development trend, which had been positive and rising in the late 1980ís and early 1990ís may, however, reduced its accelerating trend and stagnated in the second half of the 90ís.

In 2001 Iran's Human Development Index remained classified as "medium" although it gained ground by moving from the 97th position in 2000 to the 90th rank in 2002. Iran continues to experience a transition from a traditional rural-based society to a semi-industrialized country and faces many challenges. These include: a) high unemployment (generally estimated to be above 25 per cent); b) a distorted distribution of income and; c) inequality of opportunity (although poverty is officially set at 18 per cent of the population, 16.5 million people can be considered as living under the relative poverty line).

The health status of Iranians has improved over the last two decades. Iran has been able to extend public health preventive services through the establishment of an extensive Primary Health Care network. As a result child and maternal mortality rates have fallen significantly, and life expectancy at birth has risen remarkably. Infant (IMR) and under-five (U5MR) mortality have decreased to 28.6 and 35.6 per 1,000 live births respectively in 2000, compared to an IMR of 122 per 1,000 and an U5MR of 191 per 1,000 in 1970.

Immunization coverage is over 90 per cent and polio is almost eliminated. Over 85 per cent of the population has access to health services and 90 per cent of births are attended by trained health personnel. The maternal mortality rate is reported at 37 per 100,000 live births. Tetanus Toxoid coverage of women stands at approximately 80 per cent. The prevalence of moderate to sever underweight, wasting and stunting are 11 per cent, five per cent and 15 per cent respectively. About 93 per cent and 73 per cent of households had access to safe drinking water and sanitary toilet in 2000 respectively. Malnutrition remains relatively high as a result of inadequate income distribution and poor caring practices, especially in rural areas.

Iran has one of the highest rates of drug usage in the region. In addition to its social and economic consequences, drug use is emerging as a major contributor to HIV infection and AIDS. Official figures show a total of 3,680 reported cases of HIV/AIDS but the Ministry of Health believes that the actual number of HIV infections is at least three times higher. Some 64.5 per cent of the cases were contaminated through intravenous drug use (IVDU), 8.9 per cent through sexual transmission, 5.1 per cent through blood and blood product transfusion, 0.4 per cent  through mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). Some 21.0 per cent of the contaminations were of unknown origin.

Developments in education have also been positive. In 2001 the literacy rate of the population aged over six years of age has reached 80.4 per cent (85.1 per cent of men and 75.6 per cent of women). The urban-rural gap has also narrowed to about 14 per cent  (86.25 per cent of urban population versus 72.4 per cent of the rural). There are, however, still noticeable differences among and within Iranian provinces. The net enrollment ratio is above 97 per cent and is almost equal among girls and boys.

However, national averages hide disparities related to gender and area. While the overall enrollment rate for boys is 98 per cent, it varies significantly between provinces. For girls, the range is between 99 per cent in Tehran and 84 per cent in Sistan and Baluchestan. The enormous gains in the educational status of the Iranian population can be attributed to massive governmentís investment in public education (on average 45 per cent of the governmentís social affairs budget since 1989). Unfortunately, with less than 15 per cent enrolment, Iran has a significantly low rate of pre-school attendance, with no significant difference between boys and girls. Hence efforts should be directed towards expanding opportunities for early learning of pre-school aged children.

Despite all the investment in womenís education and health, womenís employment, which had reached a high of 13.8 per cent of total persons employed just before the Revolution, has actually declined since (12 per cent in 1996). In December 2001 the Cabinet approved the submission of a bill to the Parliament on Iranís accession to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with a general reservation. The bill has however not yet been passed by Parliament.



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