COVID-19: Why Iran Is Doing Better Than You Think

Photograph Source: Fars News Agency – CC BY 2.0

So Iran’s going through its worst year and is hiding the true numbers of Coronavirus victims? It seems it’s also been digging mass graves because it can’t handle the increasing number of deaths, and people are collapsing on the street left and right because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Not only that but apparently the evil Iranian regime will (as predicted by the most knowledgeable of pundits, as always), collapse due to the outbreak; just as it collapsed during and after the 8-year war with Iraq, again once the reformists won the 1997 elections, then again in 2009, not to mention 2011 after the Arab spring, and most recently in both 2017-2018.

Either the Islamic Republic is a cat or these “experts” are purposely spreading misinformation.

You can imagine this was quite a shock to many here living not so far away from the complex where the so-called mass graves were dug. News like this kept popping up every day on people’s feeds, as part of the regular misinformation campaign led by many Western countries against Iran.

To be clear, this article will not be dedicated towards redeeming Iran in light of the deliberate misinformation campaign that happened when the virus first hit it. To cut things short, the mass graves had been built four years ago in order to bury victims of potential natural disasters, coronavirus patients are not being buried there, and videos of some people collapsed on the streets are not videos of coronavirus patients, because the people recording the videos are not walking coronavirus detectors, and cannot possibly tell the difference between someone collapsing due to disease or a drug addict by the side of the road.

Since the coronavirus has become a worldwide phenomenon, this kind of baseless news has largely disappeared, and the anti-Iran view has shifted, and now stands between a critique of the Rouhani administration’s handling of the crisis, or an insistence on easing sanctions against Iran in order to make sure Iranians receive proper healthcare and needed medicine.

The truth is neither here nor there. I’m by no means here to whitewash Iran’s handling of the crisis, as many questionable decisions have been made by the Rouhani administration, but the same can be said about all countries ravaged by the virus, as the majority of countries hit by the virus are stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of fighting the virus and ensuring people’s livelihoods are not greatly disrupted. What I want to say is that Iran not lacking in the work it’s doing to stem the tide of the pandemic, nor is it in dire need of foreign help.

So how just how are things in Iran? What has Iran been doing in this battle? The numbers show that it’s been doing far better than most Western countries in fact. The numbers show that Iran is doing significantly better (in ppm) than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the US, the UK, and Switzerland, especially since the first cases appeared close to two months ago in an unprepared Iran, and only later spread to the West.

Due to the sanctions (still) imposed by the United States, Iranians were lacking in terms of needed equipment to perform diagnostic tests when the virus first hit, and did not have access to needed medical equipment and medicines, which translates into a delayed diagnosis, and delayed intervention for life-threatening cases. Meaning that Iran, despite being under sanctions, being hit earlier than most countries and being less prepared, has managed to perform better than most countries in this pandemic. So what are the steps Iran took to secure its needs?

A number of officials around the world have referred to the fight against the coronavirus as a “war”, and rightly so, and it will leave a number of the world’s leading economies highly damaged, possibly even leading to a new world order, shattering countless lives, and taking scores of others. However, what the Islamic Republic has done is mobilize all possible manpower to fight against it, meaning the army, IRGC, popular mobilization (Basij), and popular associations have all joined in and are each doing their part.

For one, the IRGC has done a lot, possibly too much to mention here, but some of the steps it has taken include opening up mask and sanitizing gel production lines across the country to meet the increasing demand, supplying hospitals with hospital beds to meet with the increase in cases, and aiding in disinfection duties.

Being under sanctions, Iranian have had to rely on themselves, and as such decided to meet the need for diagnostic kits themselves through domestic production. The Health Ministry recently announced that it has produced a Coronavirus diagnostic kit that can give an accurate reading within 2 hours, and can even export them to global markets. The kits were just recently shipped to Germany, with other Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, and Turkey requesting shipments as well.

Soon after the virus hit, mobilized forces came together under the banner of the National Committee on Combatting Coronavirus, thereby coordinating their efforts in securing needed equipment.

The Setad (which was recently attacked by U.S State Department speaker Morgan Ortagus on Twitter), has dedicated 8 hospitals and hospices with close to 1000 hospital beds to combat the virus, in addition to establishing a landline, where people seeking medical help can call in order to limit visits to physicians. This landline has decreased hospital visits by close to 80%. Not only that, but 50,000 teams (600,000 people) have been mobilized from the Basij, calling people over the phone from this landline in order to check on them for symptoms and provide them with directions, and as of April 6th 70 million people have been checked by these teams (I myself, a foreigner, was contacted on April 8th, and was given directions on what to do and where to go should I show any symptoms). In addition to that, the Setad has been busy preparing tens of thousands of boxes containing sanitizing equipment to be distributed among people in a number of provinces, and opening up a mask production factory capable of manufacturing 4 million masks/day, which is reportedly the largest in Southwest Asia (this here).

As for the treatment costs, Coronavirus patients in Iran do not have to worry about them should they be infected, as Iran has an extensive healthcare system that leaves little for people to shoulder. On average, the treatment costs for ICU patients are on average 4.5 million tomans (almost 300$), and 2 million tomans (130$) for regular beds. Not only that, but if the patient is insured (as most patients are), they only have to foot 10% of the bill, and if they cannot afford even that then they will not be charged for treatment. Treatment-wise, Iran began using plasma therapy in early March, and says plasma treatment has reduced coronavirus deaths in Iran by 40%.

This isn’t to say that the coronavirus did not cause economic difficulties for Iran, if anything it is also projected to cause economic contraction in the future, but this is a case where the sanctions turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Having to rely on domestic production lines and being isolated to a large degree from the global markets means that the Iranian economy was not as hard-hit by the virus as other economies. The pandemic is expected to shave 3% off of Iran’s GDP, meaning that the economy could lose up to $30 billion. A large number of course, but in comparison, Goldman Sacs sees a 34% decline in American GDP, and the UK’s GDP is expected to contract by 15%.

When Iran was first hit by the Coronavirus, many Western countries found it was acceptable for them to use their media outlets to attack it, calling it inefficient in controlling the outbreak, and fabricating news against it. Iran was the first country hit by the virus after China, and as such it was less prepared to counter it. As Professor Mohammad Marandi explains: “When things were not looking good, Iran was a fixed feature in all the charts. Now that Iran is performing better than most Western countries, despite the barbaric US sanctions being used to impede its struggle against COVID-19, why are the country’s numbers no longer included?”

Karim Sharara is a Lebanese PhD student who has been living in Iran since 2013, majoring in Iranian Affairs at Tehran University.