When the Trump administration announced it was sanctioning 18 Iranian banks in October, essentially blacklisting Iran’s entire financial sector, US officials insisted there would be exemptions for humanitarian goods. But Iranians are already feeling the squeeze the sanctions have put on the country’s medical supplies.
Iranian doctors and patients spoke with Middle East Eye about the impact the new US sanctions are having on Iran’s insulin supply, something already restricted by earlier US sanctions.
“It has been a year since insulin pens have disappeared from all pharmacies,” Niloofar Zolfaghari, a journalist whose father is in desperate need of insulin, told Middle East Eye. “But in the past few weeks, things have worsened as we can’t even find anything in the black market to buy.”
Diabetes is a growing health problem in Iran, with 11 percent of the country’s population over 25 suffering from the disease. On September 26th, before the new US sanctions hit, a group of 120 endocrinologists wrote a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, calling on the president to address the insulin crisis.
Dr. Arash Anissian, a chairman of a hospital in Tehran, explained to Middle East Eye how the sanctions targeting the financial sector have made it harder to import medicine. “The problem is that in the new phase of sanctions, our banks cannot work directly with foreign banks, intermediary banks also have a lot of restrictions, and the central bank cannot provide foreign exchange due to reduced oil sales,” he said.
European countries and humanitarian organizations warned of the impact the new US sanctions would have on Iran. When announcing the measures, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions “will continue to allow for humanitarian transactions to support the Iranian people.” But blacklisting a country’s entire financial sector discourages international financial institutions from doing any business with the country, despite whatever exemptions are put in place.
The new US sanctions were also put in place while Iran was reporting its highest daily death rates due to coronavirus. In the early days of the pandemic, there was an international outcry for the US to lift sanctions to help governments combat the disease. But the Trump administration responded by slapping new sanctions on Iran.
“The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said back in March, as Iran was dealing with its first wave of coronavirus and fresh US sanctions were taking effect.