Iranians dying due to sanctions while elites get medicines on black market
Iran's ruling elite continue to enjoy world-class medical treatment while choking off state funding to the health sector and selling drugs at a profit on the black market. An investigation by The Times has exposed the scale of corruption behind Iran's deepening health crisis, with the lives of ordinary Iranians put at risk while the regime profits from the critical shortage of medicines it has created.
Staff at a Tehran hospital run by Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard say that regime officials and their families have access to healthcare that rivals any in the West, while the rest of the country suffers devastating shortages.
Government data revealed by The Times last week confirmed that Iran has only sufficient stockpiles of medicine to last another 100 days. Many hospitals have already run out of vital drugs, including anaesthetic for operations.
"There is no shortage of medicine or medical equipment in the hospitals owned by this complex. Since the Revolutionary Guard controls all Iranian imports, they make sure all the latest medicineand equipment we need are imported and available," said a staff member at the Baghiatollah Medical Complex.
Surplus drugs and equipment, bought by the Revolutionary Guard using government subsidies, are then sold on the open market, where they cost three times as much because of Iran's currency crisis. Under pressure from international sanctions, the Iranian rial plunged to an all-time low against the dollar in October.
"They even make a profit from the surplus by dumping it on the free market. The shortage of medicine and equipment they have created by blaming the sanctions means their profits have increased," said one medic.
Essential medical imports to Iran are exempt from the international sanctions imposed to curb Tehran's disputed nuclear programme. But the regime has refused to release its dwindling foreign currency reserves to replenish drug stocks. Instead, testimony from several Iranian sources make it clear that the Revolutionary Guard has exacerbated the health crisis to boost profits. Tehran has imposed a subsidised exchange rate to ring-fence imports of food and medicine and offset the impact of the currency crisis. But the Revolutionary Guard, which controls ports, airports and shipping, has excluded Iran's Health Ministry from access to cheap dollars to buy drugs and equipment.
Supplies to all but the elite are now running critically short and organisations are shopping on the open market, where they fall prey to unscrupulous traders and currency dealers. Medicines that are available are expensive. Drugs for a course of chemotherapy, that would cost $2,000 (£1,250) at the subsidised rate, now cost $6,000. Iranians speak of friends selling cars to pay for treatment. Medical sources describe Iranians in Tehran hunting for medicines at extortionate prices, often with no idea if the drugs are genuine or counterfeit. Where their authenticity can be guaranteed, drugs dumped by the Revolutionary Guard are in high demand, since their quality is at least assured.
"In these districts the Revolutionary Guard's surplus is mixed in with smuggled medicines, out-of-date drugs and fakes. It is a minefield for ordinary citizens," said one Tehran doctor.
There have been claims that the Revolutionary Guard has quietly cut funding for treatment to its own war veterans.
Iranian troops suffered horrific chemical weapon attacks from Saddam Hussein's forces during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Those who survived but require medical treatment for life have enjoyed the best healthcare the Islamic Republic can offer and the regime has been quick to publicise the fact.
But there have been allegations - denied by the Government - that even though medical subsidies for veterans remain in place, their quality of care has diminished, with cheaper Chinese imports taking the place of Western drugs.
"It seems that now the veterans are getting older, so their usefulness as a propaganda tool has diminished," said one Iranian source.
Some hospitals are using drugs that were struck off medical lists but remain available and affordable, despite their potential side effects.
The cost of angering the regime can be severe. Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, Iran's Health Minister, spoke out last month about cuts in subsidies to her department. Two weeks ago a motion to impeach her was tabled by MPs.Too bad Hussein Obama didn't support the revolutionaries in 2009.
Labels: Iran sanctions regime