Western Sanctions Spark Health Crisis for Millions of Iranians

Western Sanctions Spark Health Crisis for Millions of Iranians

Life-saving medicines, patients casualties of 'sweeping sanctions'

Western sanctions against Iran mean a looming health crisis for ordinary citizens of the country, recent reporting shows.

Though life-saving medicines are not directly blacklisted in sanctions targeted at the country's purported nuclear weapons program, Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan report that

the sweeping nature of the new sanctions has had an array of unintended consequences, worst of all is the crisis they triggered in the Iranian pharmaceutical market, and the impact that it has had on millions of Iranians with chronic health problems.

They are the casaulties of trade restrictions, leaving "[e]xperts [to] warn of an impending health crisis unless essential drugs become available," according to a recent a Tehran Bureau / Guardian article:

[...] One of the most devastating consequences of EU and US sanctions is the shortage of potentially life-saving drugs. Although medicines are not blacklisted, pharmacists say financial measures against banks and trade restrictions are making it impossible to import what they need.

Patients with cancer, muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as motor neurone disease) are among those most at risk, said Mojtaba, the proprietor of a 24-hour pharmacy in east Tehran. "You also have to include haemophiliac patients," he added. "If they miss their drugs, they will have unstoppable bleeding."

The death of Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi, a 15-year-old with haemophilia, in November was the first to be directly attributed to sanctions. But hundreds of thousands of Iranians with life-threatening illnesses are unable to get the treatment they need.

Arash, a 30-year-old with long hair and a substantial moustache, said he can no longer find drugs to treat his father, who had a heart attack a year ago. "His doctor prescribed carnitine for him when he was released [from the hospital]. It comes as pills and in liquid form. But neither exist [here] these days." He says his father has tried domestically produced versions, "but they are not useful. They don't have the effect of imported drugs."

Mohammad Ali Shabani, a Tehran-based political analyst, also documents the sanctions' toll on human health in this anecdote of a cancer patient:

Hassan is in his late 40s. He has worked at an Iranian state bank all his life and is about to retire. His son is in his late teens and his daughter is still in primary school. Two years ago, around the same time a fourth round of UN sanctions was imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. After extensive treatment in Tehran, which included chemotherapy, he beat the disease.

But late this spring, the cancer came back - with a vengeance. Last month, when the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof argued that he was in favour of sanctions after having toured Iran and wrote about the great generosity and hospitality he had experienced, I got a frantic call from Hassan's wife. The drugs he needed were nowhere to be found.

I joined her in her hunt all around Tehran for the needed medicines, to no avail. Repeatedly, we were told that there was a shortage of many foreign drugs because of the sanctions, even though the West's punitive measures don't directly target supplies such as medicines.

This is only one of the many stories of how ordinary Iranians are bearing the brunt of the West's economic war against the Islamic Republic.

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In the video below, Al Jazeera's Soraya Lennie reports from Tehran on how the sanctions are affecting hospitals, and ultimately the health of Iranians:

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