Sanctions imposed on Iran over its controversial nuclear activities are said to be taking a toll on the population, including seriously ill patients who find it increasingly difficult to access needed drugs.
Iranian media report that the country is facing shortages of medicine needed for the treatment of a number of illnesses -- including life-threatening conditions like cancer and heart disease, pulmonary problems, hemophilia, and multiple sclerosis.
"Tejaratnews," an Iranian trade publication, published a list over the weekend of 50 imported drugs that it says have become rare as a result of financial sanctions. Several types of antibiotics and at least two types of birth-control pill are also in short supply.
The website reports that some 40 drugs made inside the country are also difficult to obtain. The report says some cancer and diabetes patients are trying to buy from pharmacies large amounts of medicine, apparently to avoid interruption or delay in their supplies, which could have deadly consequences.
The run on drugs is exacerbating the drug shortage. “Tejaratnews” reports that 13 Aban Pharmacy, which specializes in drugs for special disorders, has introduced a rationing system.
The drugs that are still available have spiked in price, as one Tehran- based pharmacist told RFE/RL.
“Usually the price of drugs increases once or twice per year, but in the current year the price of many medications has increase five or six times," the source said. "This applies to almost all drugs. The price of some side drugs has increased by 60 percent.”
The current drug shortage was foreseen months ago by the Iran’s Hemophilia Society and the Society of Special Diseases, which sent open letters to international organizations, including the United Nations, warning that sanctions were endangering the lives of many patients.
The daily “Shargh” reported in May that the country was running short on drugs for the treatment of 30 serious illnesses. The daily has cited international sanctions, the implementation of subsidy cuts, and the recent foreign-currency exchange-rate fluctuations as the main reason why.
Cancer is said to be the third-deadliest disease among Iranians. According to Iranian media, each year the number of cancer patients increases by 70,000 to 100,000.
One recently described to the BBC’s Persian Television the effect of skyrocketing drug prices and supply shortages. “Before, some foreign made drugs were available for 2,000,000 rials. But currently the price of an injection needed for cancer patients after chemotherapy is 50,000,000 rials," the source said. "As a patient, I’d rather die than impose such cost on my family."
The popular “Fararu” website reported last month that a cancer patient who stood in a long line at the 13 Aban Pharmacy to buy drugs he needed for chemotherapy was asked by a person outside the store as he left whether he would sell him the box the drugs came in.
The patient responded angrily and walked away but told the website that he couldn’t help wondering, “Will someone be forced to sell the boxes his medicine came in to be able to help pay for the cost of his treatment? And what kind of drug in those boxes, and at what price, will be sold to people?”
“Fararu” quoted experts who said that if serious measures were not taken, “sanctions would paralyze Iran’s health sector” and many people would die or suffer.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari