Sanctions and Medical Supply Shortages in Iran

February 9, 2013

            Sanctions have unintentionally played a key role in creating shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran, according to a new report by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Siamak Namazi and several consultants interviewed Iranian importers, manufacturers, and distributors of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment as well as their Western counterparts. They found that Tehran’s mismanagement of the situation has aggravated the problem. But sanctions have created larger issues, including a bottleneck in banking facilities necessary for trade, and a scarcity of hard currency. The following are excerpts from the report, with a link to the full text at the end.

Key Findings
            We learned that despite existing legal loopholes meant to facilitate humanitarian trade, sanctions are indeed causing disruptions in the supply of medicine and medical equipment in Iran. Procurement of the most advanced life-saving medicines and their chemical raw materials from the United States and Europe has been particularly challenging.
            As a result, Iranian patients find it increasingly difficult and expensive, if not impossible, to obtain some of the medicines they need. When they do fill a prescription, they risk amplified side effects and reduced effectiveness because Iran is forced to import more and more medicines, or their chemical building blocks, from India and China, thereby replacing the higher quality products from Western manufacturers. Imports from American and European drug makers were down by an estimated 30 percent in 2012 and falling. In the highly patented world of pharmaceuticals, substitution is often unfeasible, particularly when it comes to advanced medicines used to fight diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.
            The outlook is bleak, and, without further targeted sanctions relief, the humanitarian predicament caused by these shortages will intensify…
            There is no doubt that Tehran’s general unpreparedness for and mismanagement of the sanctions imposed on it compounded and exacerbated the complex problem of medical shortages in Iran. In fact, Iran’s own Minister of Health and Medical Education Marziyeh Vahid Dastjerdi recently lost her job after unambiguously rebuking the government for its maladroit handling of the medical shortage crisis…
            Ultimately, the West’s sanctions regime against Iran contributes to shortages of humanitarian goods by disrupting the supply chain from foreign manufacturer to the Iranian patient in need of medicine.
            Two factors stand out and are more pronounced than the others: (1) Sanctions create a bottleneck in the banking facilities necessary for trade; (2) Sanctions cause scarcity of hard currency needed for trade with European and American manufacturers.
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