Iran is the hardest-hit country by the coronavirus pandemic in the middle east. The contagion was first detected on 19 February 2020 in the holy city of Qom, and thereafter spread quickly across the country. As of 18th June 2020, it had over 9000 coronavirus related fatalities. The virus attacked all the 31 provinces of the country not discriminating between the common man and the people at high places including the members of the Parliament, religious leaders and senior ministers. The crisis touched most parts of the country, but it most severely impacted working and the poor class.
The Iranian government has been criticized for its response towards the pandemic. The health care policy, which has been politicized, has preferred denial and misinformation as a response to the crisis the pandemic brought with it. Questions have also been raised about the role of US sanctions in crippling Iran’s economy, public health facilities and public health facilities. All these factors, when combined, have disabled Tehran (the capital of Iran) from providing the best response to the pandemic.
What do the sanction laws say?
According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the US has “consistently maintained broad exceptions and authorizations to support humanitarian transactions with Iran.” The first significant sanctions were imposed in 1995 by Bill Clinton, and in 2001 exemptions for medical goods and medicine first came into effect. These sanctions have periodically widened the scope of products for exemption, and by 2012, the exclusions included agricultural products and most foods. After the world powers, including the US, reached a deal with Iran on its nuclear programme in 2015, the sanctions were lowered against Iran. This approach was abandoned after Trump withdrew the US from the deal and sought to force Iran’s leaders to change their anti-US policy. .
The US sanctions are enforced through a wide array of instruments. Financial sanctions prohibit US banks from transacting with Iran, which limits Iran’s access to dollar-denominated transactions. Secondary sanctions measures also target non-US entities that have dealings with Iran, thus at a risk of facing prosecution in the US. These sanctions make transactions with Iran lengthy and complicated, and even impossible in some cases
There are some exemptions from sanctions for humanitarian assistance (sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine and agricultural services). Despite these exemptions, sanctions have severely impaired Iran’s ability to be able to finance humanitarian imports. Given the volume of complexity and due diligence involved, most banks are reluctant to deal with Iran. This makes it difficult to find a way to pay for purchases difficult for Iran. Also many items require additional authorization because the US considers them as “dual-use” (the things might also be used for defence- for example, the sort of oxygen generators that are needed in life support machines used to treat coronavirus cases). Lastly, the sanctions on Iran’s oil exports led to a decline in revenue, further weakening Iran’s currency, which has left the country vulnerable and with fewer resources to pay for non-sanctioned items as well.
All these put together have directly caused shortages of medical equipment and impacted Iran’s health sector negatively. This has also impacted the capability of Iranian healthcare sector to effectively manage the COVID-19 situation.