US sanctions on Iran put citizens’ health at risk

Medication box
Twelve thousand patients with bleeding disorders will be put at risk when the country’s medicine runs out due to sanctions, says Ahmad Ghavideh, the head of Iran’s Haemophilia Society. Deliveries of medicine to Iran stopped in 2015, resulting in fifty percent rise in the price of drugs, operating rooms that ran out of anesthetics and turned to older, less efficient ones. A study by WHO Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal found a strong link between sanctions and a decrease in the access to medications, meaning that the US attempt to change the Iranian regime has negatively impacted access to medicine.

Iranian Attempt to Find a Solution

Box of medication

An Iranian tweeted a picture of medication he could no longer find but was needed for his knee. Meanwhile, 60 capsules of this medication can be ordered from for only US$40.

In attempts to get crucial medicine that is no longer accessible in Iran, many Iranians have turned to Twitter asking for help. While asking Twitter for medication is not a long-term solution, it is the best option for many Iranians who are unable to find accessible medication. In a letter written to the editor of the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging titled “Economic sanctions are Against Basic Human Rights on Health”, six Iranian health care professionals, faced with a lack of radio-pharmaceutical materials for medical purposes, contacted the Journal asking the international community to stand with them and protest the secondary sanctions on Iran. “Sam,” a medical professional who asked not to be identified, helped prepare the letter.  When I contacted him for this article, he emphasized that the lack of medication is inhumane and seriously affecting average Iranians. Sam is also involved in other citizen-led initiatives. He spoke of his efforts against the US threat to impose sanctions on Iranian medical institutions. According to Sam, Pars Isotope Company is the leading company responsible for the supply of radioactive drugs for over a million Iranian patients, and it is being seriously threatened by sanctions. With Sam’s help, Mohsen Saghari, the president of the Iranian Society of Nuclear Medicine, wrote to the director general of the World Health Organization, seeking international aid in the face of the disastrous sanctions. They emphasized the importance of Pars Isotope Company and the lack of validity of the US unilateral sanctions. They wrote similar letters to the president of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine and to the president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.

The Iranian Government’s Role

Box of medication

Another Iranian tweeted a picture of her medicine which she bought for 98,000 rials (US$2.33); the price on the box was 58,800 rials (US$1.40).  Half of the Iranian people earn 51,000,000 rials (US$1,200) or less a year.

Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American academic and political analyst, emphasizes that the effects of the sanctions on Iranian civilians is not solely an issue of American aggression. He believes that the Iranian problems are two-fold – half are US-rooted, (i.e. the sanctions) and have are rooted in corruption in the Iranian government. He believes that a small number of Iranians are gaining vast wealth by exploiting those in dire medical situations. Some corrupt wealthy people hoard medication, he says, waiting for a shortage so they can sell it at a significantly higher price. In this scenario, although the sanctions target the regime and its supporters, people in government protect themselves and their supporters from the consequences and transfer them instead to the civilian population.  Thus problems in medication shortages are the result not only of the sanctions, but how the sanctions have increased corruption that affected civilians. However, Dr. Omid B. Milani, a professor at University of Ottawa faculty of law and a human rights researcher, says that to fully understand the situation we must step away from Dr. Amirahmadi’s analysis, and argues that the consequences for people and government in Iran cannot be separated. Dr. Milani agreed with Dr. Amirahmadi that the first victims of sanctions are people, but instead of emphasizing the corruption within Iran he emphasizes the “criminal acts perpetuated by the US”. These acts include threats against peace by breaching UN Security Council resolutions with “one sided sanction against Iran.” Dr. Milani called these sanctions “economic terrorism” because the US is attempting to “isolate Iran and radicalize the discourse in order to justify violence” by attacking a population simply because they are citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Dr. Milani emphasized that it is “morally unconscionable when you think that these sanctions are done in the name of human rights, usually for moral concerns,” when they are causing so much harm to Iranians. Iranians have taken to the street to protest, and Dr. Amirahmadi predicts that these will be the last few years for the Islamic Republic. This would be the result the US government was hoping for, but what impacts on health would it find acceptable to achieve this goal?
History of the sanctions
Sanctions on Iran began during Clinton’s presidency, first as a political tool during hostage talks then gradually became a tool to punish Iran’s Islamic Republic. Today, sanctions continue to be a political tool to weaken Iran.  When President Donald Trump’s administration declared the re-imposition the sanctions, it noted that the sanctions do not target medical supplies. Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi disagrees, saying, “The sanctions have major impacts on the Iranian people, and very little on the government until recently.” Since the administration has not issued a statement reassuring banks and organisations that work with Iran that they won’t face difficulties, many companies fear upsetting the United States and slow or stop their relations with Iran. With medical companies no longer willing to work with some Iranian banks, it is harder for Iranians to pay for medication.
Soraia Afshar

Soraia Afshar is a student at McGill University majoring in Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies and History with a minor in Political Science, seeking to pursue a law degree. She is also currently interning at an immigration law firm.