Doctors and nurses in Iran who are on the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus have been praised as heroes and those who died were called martyrs, but as they continue to deal with an increasing number of infections, such praise rings hollow.
The medical workers say they are defenseless to handle the contagion and as a result have been hard hit by the virus. During the first 90 days of the outbreak alone, about one medical staffer died each day and dozens became infected.
“We are heading fast toward a disaster,” said a young Isfahan doctor who has been working tirelessly, checking dozens of suspected coronavirus patients before referring them to hospitals.
As the crippling sanctions imposed by the U.S. left Iran ill-equipped to deal with the fast-moving virus, some medical professionals say government and religious leaders bear the brunt of the blame for allowing the virus to spread — and for hiding how much it had spread.
Official government figures show that around 100,000 people were infected by the virus and around 6,500 have died.
But a report by the research arm of Iran’s parliament said the number of cases could be eight to 10 times higher, making it among the hardest hit countries in the world. The report said the number of deaths could be 80% higher than the official numbers from the health ministry, about 11,700.
The Iranian government is currently reporting a decline in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, even though local authorities are expanding cemeteries in places like Tehran where the municipal council said it had to add 10,000 new graves to its largest cemetery, Behshet Zahra.
Interviews with more than 30 medical professionals and a review of communications by doctors on messaging apps and other documents by an Associated Press reporter in Cairo revealed many previously unreported details.
In the beginning, medical staffers faced the outbreak with very limited equipment. Some washed their own gowns and masks or sterilized them in regular ovens. Others wrapped their bodies in plastic bags they bought at supermarkets.
The makeshift equipment didn’t help as dozens of medical professionals without adequate protection died along with their patients.
Iran’s leaders, several medical professionals said, delayed telling the public about the virus for weeks, even as hospitals were filling up with people suffering from symptoms linked to the virus. And even as doctors and other experts were warning the Iranian president to take radical action, the government resisted, fearing the impact on elections, national anniversaries, and economy.
One doctor interviewed by The Associated Press — who, like all medical workers interviewed for this story, spoke only on the condition that they not be named for fear of persecution — said he and his colleagues were even discouraged from using protective equipment. He said government officials claimed wearing masks would cause panic.
The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed on March 10 that the doctors, nurses, and medical staffers who died in the fight against coronavirus in Iran were “martyrs.” Pictures of deceased doctors have been placed alongside those of soldiers who were killed in the bloody Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, which claimed the lives of a million Iranian and Iraqis.
“They are normalizing death,” a Tehran-based health consultant said.
A list compiled by a group of Iranian doctors found that a total of 126 medical staffers have died since the virus was first reported, mostly in the provinces of Gilan and Tehran, while over 2,070 contracted the virus.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, acknowledged the deadly toll of COVID-19 on the medical profession, telling the AP the total number of deaths is 107 while 470 had tested positive for the virus.
But Jahanpour places the blame on the U.S. “Remember this is a country under sanctions,” he said. (Source: Mainichi Japan)