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Child cancer patients dying in droves due to sanctions

Pedestrians, mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, walk past closed shops along a street in Iran's capital Tehran on November 21, 2020, as the Iranian government announced new pandemic-countering measures. / AFP / STR

It would appear that COVID-19 is kinder to children than the US administration and its inhumane sanctions, as a result of which, children with cancer are needlessly dying in Iran from lack of medicine, thousands of adults are also dying each month from COVID-19.

Although US sanctions are killing people, where the corona virus has refrained from doing so, Trump et al have tried to blame the pandemic’s death toll in Iran on the Iranian government’s alleged incompetence and corruption.

Iran may have made its fair share of mistakes in dealing with the pandemic. But not much can compare to the toll US sanctions, which amount to medical terrorism, have taken on the country’s economy and hence the fight against COVID-19.

The US lecturing other nations about competence and corruption, with an outgoing president who has prescribed bleach as a cure for COVID-19, is hypocritical, to say the least.

I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning? As you see, it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.

Incumbent US President, Donald J Trump

No matter how incompetent Iran may have presented itself, despite being in a quagmire, it pales in comparison to US incompetence and corruption.

Maximum pressure economic sanctions were bound to hit the economy and have contributed to a drastic currency devaluation and high inflation. 

Far more COVID-19 cases have been reported in Iran than in neighboring states.

More stringent measures should have been taken

Dr. Hassan Abolghasmi, dean of Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences, a successful hospital in corona care, who also has in his care children with cancer, believes the virus should have been stopped from spreading during the Iranian New Year’s holidays.

The reason for the coronavirus spread in Iran was that we couldn’t stop the source at the early stages. The best time to stop the virus from spreading was during the Iranian New Year’s holidays.

We should have taken more stringent measures like the ones in the Eastern bloc. The model we chose was unfortunately from the West and you can see how bad a situation they are in.

We need to focus on the carriers of virus. Testing hospitalized patients doesn’t help much; instead we should go and test those who are healthy carriers and who have been in contact with them; and then give them facilities so that we can isolate them in hotels, provide them with vacant government houses, and use the money raised by charity to assist them.

Dr. Hassan Abolghasmi, Dean, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences

Dr Abolqasemi sees sanctions as a blessing as well as a curse. He takes pride in corona-related findings and advances in domestic medicine which were achieved specifically to survive America’s maximum pressure campaign. 

Handling the coronavirus pandemic is not just a matter of providing medicine, but also a matter directly related to economics. That is, nations that want to control the crisis must have a stronger economy and stronger facilities. And these possibilities have been taken away from us by the West. They do not allow us to sell our oil, they do not allow us to take back the money foreigners owe us. They do not allow us to make our purchase on what we need, all of which have affected our economy.

Dr. Hassan Abolghasmi, Dean, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences

The most common complication arising fromCOVID-19 is the lungs becoming severely engaged.  Dr Mostafa Ghanei, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarter, is a lung specialist and on the COVID-19 studies committee.

It is true that we are producing diagnostic test kits but the problem is that the Ministry of Health cannot afford all these kits. I mean, for example, you see some countries that were very strong economically tested one person twice; but we, for example, could test maybe 350 people out of 100 thousand. So, the number of our tests was down because of the financial problems that were imposed on us. This clearly indicates it.

Dr. Mostafa Ghanei, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarter, Tehran

COVID-19 turns one

As the coronavirus made it to its first birthday in mid November, it left in its wake the highest number of casualties Iran has yet seen. And as of Saturday the 22nd of November, the nation has gone into quarantine for two weeks.

The government announced a quarantine of sorts. But it has not proved easy to maintain, given the strain Iran’s incarcerated economy has already endured. 

In the earlier days of the outbreak, when no one knew what they were facing, the whole world contributed to exacerbating the problem.

There were other practical mistakes made that don’t necessarily relate to our country but to the whole world. For example, they thought wearing facemasks had no effect on curbing the spread. For a while, they said the transmission takes place through surfaces. And then, they said for a while that the patients transmitted the virus; but then they realized that it wasn’t entirely true as they were isolated and everyone avoided them. We know today that most people who are infectious are seemingly healthy. Insufficient work was done on the matter and not enough is being done now either.

Dr. Hassan Abolghasmi, Dean, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences

In the earlier days of the outbreak, Iranian doctors boasted their success in improvising treatments to help patients overcome the disease. Dr Salehi, chief of the infectious diseases at Imam Khomeini hospital, laments losing the most patients ever to COVID-19, as a third wave of the virus surges. 

Insufficient government measures, nonobservance of protocols

Why has there been such a high fatality rate? Does it have anything to do with insufficient government measures or is it mostly due to nonobservance of protocols by the general public?

… as to why the number of deaths has increased and why the number of critically ill patients is so high, it is certainly due to the high influx of patients into the health system.

If we are to assume that, for example, you have the ability to produce three TV shows a day. If this grows to 10 programs a day, how much does it impact the quality of your work?

The same goes for us. For example, I have the ability to care for 30 patients a day. If this jumps to 90, I can’t deal with my patients as carefully as is needed. This has actually happened. That is, the main reason for the decline in the quality of health is the sharp increase in the number of patients.

Dr Mohammad R Salehi, Infectious Disease Specialist, Imam Khomeini Hospital

According to official international sources, November 23rd, 2020: Globally there are about 60 million Coronavirus Cases with about 1,400,000 deaths and almost 40,000,800 recovered and in Iran there are about 855 thousand total cases, less than 45 thousand deaths and under 604 thousand recovered. 

There has been a surge in cases and with more cases come more deaths but also more treated. Treatment remains much the same.

COVID-19 treatment, Iran

” We use antiviral drugs. For example, drugs such as Favipiravir, Remdesivir, Ivermectin, and various other drugs. On the other hand, drugs such as Dexamethasone and Methylprednisolone are being used and have really helped some patients. But in general, none of these have been miraculous”, asserts Dr Salehi.

First of all, there is really no particular medicine to cure COVID-19; but there are procedures that we prescribe in clinical trials.

One of the things we did to treat patients, like plasma therapy, was a project I started at this very hospital, and even the Americans started to adopt plasma therapy two or three weeks after us.

Another important issue in handling COVID-19 patients is our oxygen supply. They even sanctioned us on this and refused to sell us oxygen generators. We started a knowledge-based company ourselves and produced oxygen.

Dr Hassan Abolghasmi, Dean, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences

The question, however, remains whether patients can procure any potential cure at reasonable price. The rumour mills, as is their want, have been busy painting a dismal picture of the COVID-19 response in Iran.

In August the nation was angered by reports contrary to government claims.

In April President Rouhani had said: “The government and insurance department pay 90 percent of the [treatment] costs and citizens only pay 10 percent.”

Studies have shown that in private hospitals, the minimum cost of coronavirus treatment reaches 350 million rials (approximately $1,370 by the November 23rd exchange rate of 256000 rials to the dollar). They say “those costs can go up to 1.5 billion rials (under $5,900). And that is apart from the cost of private nurses and certain medications.

In public hospitals, on the other hand, treatment for insurance holders is almost free. But without insurance a patient would have to pay between 50-300 million rials (close to $200-1,170) for treatment.

We have a protocol in the scientific committee that you can prescribe certain drugs to people who are admitted. This is clear so I will not discuss it. When we treat the patient with that scientific protocol, it costs about 5-million tomans, which is affordable.

Also, the insurance pays and the majority of our patients are insured and we have a bed for them too.

However, some private hospitals perform procedures for the patient(s) that have not been approved by the scientific committee, and the patient is willing to pay any amount in such life and death situations.

Dr. Mostafa Ghanei, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarter, Tehran

Homegrown vaccine

Around the world vaccine candidates of high efficacy are undergoing various stages of clinical trials prior to approval for mass inoculation.

Iran is also working on a promising vaccine of its own, however, it remains to be seen whether Iran will have a viable, working vaccine of sufficient efficacy soon enough.

If this fails to bear fruit, will The Islamic Republic of Iran be able to place an international order, and pay for it?

Obviously, even if medicine were not already under sanctions, banking sanctions would have been enough to block Iran’s payment channels. Most countries, companies and banks fear that dealing with Iran would expose them to secondary US sanctions. 

Iran prepared itself for both scenarios; if another country could produce the vaccine sooner, we can buy it until our own vaccine can be prepared. But I am sure that the vaccine projects that we have been working on in Iran are close to the final stage.

We do not have a problem in terms of their effectiveness.

Our problem is to prepare them for the mass production and shipping stage to be able to use them for ourselves. Several projects that I know of are underway in Iran and have achieved very good results.

I think we will definitely have an Iranian vaccine by the next year.

Dr Hassan Abolghasmi, Dean, Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences

We are expecting a COVID-19 vaccine to be mass produced pretty soon, but will it be a reliable vaccine and would Iran be able to place an order; can we pay for it? Do we have the right channels to do so?

Instead of vaccines, I think we should focus on more definitive precautions, such as using face masks, washing hands, and social distancing.

The unilateral, and irrational, US sanctions against Iran and some other countries is another reality we need to face. I’m optimistic about these political changes that are taking place in the United States.

If Mr. Joe Biden takes the power from Donald Trump and becomes the U-S president, it seems that as Biden said in his campaign speeches, he’s ready to return to the JCPOA. So, I hope we can have vaccines in Iran more easily.

Dr Mohammad R Salehi, Infectious Disease Specialist, Imam Khomeini Hospital

Sanctions have become an inseparable part of life to Iranians who have been isolated by for the past 40 years. The first serious blow came 10 years ago when nuclear-related economic UN sanctions were imposed on Iran.

 In 2015 they were eased and were to be lifted in stages in compliance with the JCPOA or nuclear deal, in return for Iran limiting its peaceful nuclear programme.

Iran complied. But come Donald Trump, hopes were shattered for Iran and other parties to the deal.

The US unilaterally pulled out and reimposed UN sanctions as US sanctions on Iran. The US denies that is illegal.

Sanctions had already cost Iran about $200 billion in revenue and helped devalue the currency by half in the past two years. That was BEFORE the virus emerged. And it was mainly down to decimated oil sales.

Modern day Iran after all has traditionally been an oil economy. So the blow to the economy in the medium-term, especially while the country is struggling with a worldwide pandemic, should be obvious. 

We are an oil-producing country and we need to sell oil. When they created hurdles for selling our oil, we had only one source to take from, which was the foreign exchange reserve fund, and the money we owed from abroad. So, we did not have a growing economy, we did not have an economy with enough reserves.

Well, to handle the coronavirus outbreak, shutting down the economy is needed. Elsewhere in the world, when they are under total lockdown, the unemployed are backed by insurance and will receive support.

Dr. Mostafa Ghanei, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarter, Tehran

Iran was selling 2.6 million bpd when the USA pulled out of the JCPOA and attempted to reduce Iranian crude oil sales to zero.

Needless to say, that is not how things came to pass. Iran had to sell by running circles round the US, but that only amounted to three or four hundred thousand barrels on a good day.

Wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing

Preventative measures are the best solution to COVID-19, yet despite a nationwide lockdown, Iran hasn’t been able to sustain a systematic or consistent quarantine regimen.

Not only our economy but also the economies of more developed and strong countries of the world both in terms of economy and technology have been unable to bear this.

But I do not think we needed a long quarantine period. I think we needed timely quarantine, but not for a long time.

We needed to announce lockdowns and eventually lift the restrictions carefully and with planning. Just like what we did in April. Back then, Iran managed to rein in on new daily infections by imposing severe restrictions for two weeks, taking new cases to less than 100 people a day.

But that plan was abandoned shortly after. As a result, unfortunately, we entered the second wave.

Dr Mohammad R Salehi, Infectious Disease Specialist, Imam Khomeini Hospital

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the US had moved from “economic terrorism” to “medical terror” by declining to lift the sanctions after the beginning of the outbreak in mid-February. He urged the international community to stop aiding “war crimes” by obeying “illegal and immoral” sanctions.

Iran’s plea to lift sanctions on humanitarian grounds, during the outbreak, has gained traction globally. But to the US, the outbreak has succeeded where sanctions failed, and now would be the perfect opportunity to deal Iran a fatal blow, as it’s down. 

US sanctions medicines then offers medical aid

To force Iran to capitulate to its demands, the US rather than lifting sanctions doubled down imposing fresh sanctions, even as it offered Iran medical aid to help combat the pandemic.

Iran refused the aid, obviously. Because in Iran’s view all the US need do is lift sanctions, as provided for in the nuclear deal, in which case Iran would need no aid and could freely buy ventilators and so forth for coronavirus patients, from any country it so desired.

The bottom line is that the tough economic sanctions that the United States has imposed on our people have definitely affected patients. Acquiring pharmaceutical products and various diagnostic equipment such as diagnostic kits and radiological devices such as CT scans, MRI machines and other equipment that need to be purchased from other countries is another important fact. To a large extent, these unilateral and highly inhumane sanctions seem to have seriously harmed our patients as well.

Dr. Mostafa Ghanei, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarter, Tehran

Despite everything Iran has suffered as a result of the sanctions, the end result shows yet another failed policy on the part of the US.

While the U-S could achieve some of its goals in the short-term, that is, it saw the impact of sanctions on Iran. But in the long run, this will be to the detriment of both the United States and its allies. Because Tehran chose not to trust them in any way, neither in crisis, nor in peace, and to base that trust on only its domestic production. All those, which were generally import-based, are now moving towards supporting domestic production. Their disadvantage is that in the long run, they will no longer have a country with a population of 80-millions as a market for their goods.

Dr. Mostafa Ghanei, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarter, Tehran

By April Iran was already losing at least a million jobs per month, economists said the coronavirus would shrink Iran’s GDP by a third and create at least a $10 billion budget deficit this year.

People are suffering, not due to incompetence or corruption, but because a government lacking resources can’t bail out businesses, can’t keep up quarantines or financially support people so they won’t have to go to work.

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