Medicine shortage is making headlines once again, everywhere except in Iran that is.
The headlines in Iran died out back on January 1st, 2013 when the supreme leader ended the discussion by saying "government officials should solve the medicine shortage issue" (see headline below). Apparently the Iranian media took that to mean that this issue is now off limit and the public does not need to read or hear anymore negative reporting on the subject.
Just before this unwritten gag order, the "Fars News" website posted an article titled "Medicine Languishing in Customs" (see photo below). In that article it was revealed that what little medicine that makes it to Iranian ports is not clearing customs because its been three months since the importers were given access to "hard currency" to pay for already imported medicine. That news article was published on December 29, 2012 (5, and photo below).
A couple of months ago, the health minister Marziyeh Vahid Dastjerdi, the only woman in Ahmadinejad's cabinet, was fired for being too outspoken in her criticism of the Government's lack of funding for medicine imports; She was never heard from again. Her last statement to the media was "I don't know what happened to the funds designated for the purchase of medicine".
The now acting health minister was quoted on Jan 26 to say that "we have no shortage of medicine" (6, also see photo below)
It's been quiet in the Iranian media but the western media is picking this issue up as evidence of the unintentional ill effects of sanctions.
I would like to review a couple of reports currently making the rounds:
"Sanctions and Medical Supply Shortages in Iran" (1)
by Siamak Namazi, a Dubai based consultant and a former Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
"There is no mistaking that the scarcity of medicine and medical equipment in Iran started with the tightening up of sanctions. Nearly every one of our interviewees—including senior officers of American and European companies that supply pharmaceutical and medical products to the country—attested to this fact."
The author assumes "cause and effect" based simply on the timing of the medicine shortage. The report does mention China and India as alternate sources of some drugs but claims that Iran has no way to purchase critical US and European made medicine from alternate sources.
Even if we erroneously assume that US and European made medicine can not be purchased in India or China using their local currency, a determined buyer would have considered alternate sources like Turkey and Iraq (as many individual Iranians do), both of whom have good commercial relations with Iran and would be more than happy to facilitate medicine purchases and make a commission in the process.
Since medicine and medical supplies are officially off the sanction list, intermediaries in Turkey or Iraq would not face retaliations from the US or Europe for facilitating such transactions.
Most Iranians visiting Turkey know that one could walk into any pharmacy and obtain any drug without even a prescription, so long as you take your wallet along. I personally bought US made medicine in Istanbul and all I had to do is pay for it in Turkish liras. Incidentally, the cost was lower than what i would have paid in the USA.
There is no reason to believe that the Iranian government is not able to do what ordinary Iranians are already doing.
Iran has a significant Turkish lira account in Turkey as the Turks are paying Iran in local currency for their energy purchases. If the Iranian regime is as determined as it claims then there is nothing to stop it from using these funds to purchase US made medicine from Turkey. Instead, Iran has been converting its Turkish liras to Turkish Gold and taking it home (3,4) to use in lieu of hard currency within Iran to pay for its security forces and other more pressing budget items in order to stay in power and keep any future unrest in check.
This report goes on to point out that:
"Intuitive logic also supports the study’s findings. Remember, Iran had the same government and the same companies running the pharmaceutical and medical supplies business—all with the same deficiencies—prior to the ratcheting up of sanctions; yet Iranian patients did not lack in healthcare in the same way that they do today. Shortages began when the continuous tightening of sanctions eventually placed overwhelming obstacles in the way of humanitarian trade. There is no chicken and egg argument to be had in this instance since the timeline is clear."
This argument assumes that the Iranian officials are placing the same priority on medicine purchases as they did in the past. Available evidence indicates that they don't. They don't allocate enough funds for it, and when they do they are being caught red handed not providing the funds they promised to importers. Even Khamenei's last statement implies that the solution is in the hands of Iranian officials.
Iran maybe trying its best to overcome the sanctions in general, but it is clearly not trying hard enough when it comes to its humanitarian needs. I still believe that the IR of Iran is hoping to keep this humanitarian issue "alive" in order to better argue for easing of the sanctions, even if this inaction leads to the "death" of many Iranians.
A regime priding itself on managing to "almost" develop a "stealth jet" while under sanctions is surely capable of working around the obstacles involved in the purchasing of nonlethal items that are not subject to sanctions, like medicine.
Another interesting report in the news is the Reuters article of Feb 8, 2013 by Arshad Mohammed titled (2):
"U.S. pharmaceutical exports to Iran cut in half in 2012"
This article highlights the banking difficulties Iran is facing in paying for medicine purchased in the United States, despite treasury department assertions that medicine purchases are not restricted.
"Exports of U.S. pharmaceuticals to Iran were cut in half last year, according to data released on Friday, while overall U.S. exports to the Islamic republic rose about nine percent because of grain sales."
"Exports of pharmaceuticals fell to $14.8 million from $31.1 million in 2011, while sales of vitamins, medicinal and botanical drugs decreased to $4.9 million from $10.8 million."
"Exports of surgical appliances and supplies also declined to $2.4 million last year from $3.7 million the previous year."
"Sales of pulp mill products - which include the raw material for diapers - dropped to $26.3 million from $57.9 million, and exports of cattle fell to $5.3 million from $7.3 million."
Despite the title of this article, the data within is actually quite damning to the Iranian regime. Instead of purchasing hard to find chemotherapy and immunosuppressant agents the regime saw fit to spend $4.9 million on vitamins and botanical medicine, and $26.3 million on raw material for diapers. The well meaning anti-sanction camp should find it hard to justify such Iranian purchases in the US, while blaming the shortage of specialty medications on western sanctions. The Iranians could have bought their vitamins from India and China and used the millions of dollars in the USA to purchase harder to find medicine.
Make no mistake about, sanctions are no picnic for the Iranian public despite the intentions of the West to target the regime and not the people.
Having said that, when it comes to the medicine shortage, it is becoming obvious that the regime is lacking the political will to resolve this humanitarian issue, and what little funds it allocates are falling victim to IR corruption or are being used to purchase US made diaper material.
Photo credit: press tv, gulfnews, panorama.com, press TV