Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Siege Tactics Hurt the Vulnerable

Iran’s top cancer hospital patients are paying the price of geopolitical strategies as the country’s health system struggles to cope under crippling US sanctions. Nearly two years after the US pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal imposing ever-tightening sanctions, patients and staff at the Cancer Institute are struggling to provide healthcare amid shortages and spiralling drug prices.

US President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy is posing a serious risk to Iran’s healthcare system, according to an international human rights group. A 2019 Human Rights Watch report found some of the worst-affected were Iranians with rare diseases and conditions that require specialised treatment.

Although Washington has built exemptions for humanitarian imports into its sanctions regime, the  US sanctions against Iranian banks have drastically affected Iran’s ability to import medical supplies. 

“We don't have enough of some types of drugs and we have to import them. It becomes very expensive for our patients. They have to pay in dollars or euros,” explains Wida Shehri, head nurse at the chemotherapy unit.

While Iran produces 95 percent of its drugs, the country has to import ingredients that are difficult to access under the sanctions.

“Exporters want to sell us the drugs. The problem is payment. We don't have ways to transfer money between bank accounts. I think around 50 percent of our patients have been affected by the sanctions,” explains Mahmoud Zadeh, director of oncology at the Imam Khomeini Hospital Complex.

At the Cancer Institute, surgeons trying to save lives are tired of being pawns in geopolitical games. Doctors say medical equipment at the cancer centre is not up to date, increasing the risk for patients.

“We are facing some problems during operations,” a surgeon told FRANCE 24. “I don't know really if the target of the sanctions are the politicians or our patients. We are dealing with cancer here and cancer doesn't stop, so we cannot stop.”

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