Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Islamic Republic of Iran various organizations have been tasked with responding to different aspects of the epidemic. Simultaneously, non-governmental organizations, in line with their social responsibility, have likewise assisted with the nation-wide response. This analysis first outlines a brief background of the division of responsibility among the said organizations, the updated official facts and figures released and the plight of vulnerable Afghan communities in Iran amid the pandemic.
Backdrop of COVID-19 Response in Iran
Ministry of Health & Medical Education (MoHME) is the main governmental body leading the COVID-19 response through expanding health, hygiene, treatment and security measures and resources in hospitals and other health facilities. National Committee to Combat COVID-19 was established in late February 2020 following an enactment issued by Supreme National Security Council. The enacted was affirmed by the Supreme Leader of I.R. Iran. All close-downs or quarantine orders are solely issued by the said Committee currently headed by Minister of MoHME, Saeed Namaki.
Initially, food production and packaging centers, public spaces, hospitals, post-hospital treatment centers, biomedical waste dumping sites, workshops and houses of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 (under treatment or deceased) were disinfected.
All gatherings for burial ceremonies of the deceased have been very restricted. Water treatment plants are also constantly monitored. Brochures disseminating information on how to combat COVID-19 have been produced and widely distributed in health centers and governmental offices. Additionally, different guidelines have been devised to stop the virus from further spreading in public transportation systems, sports and recreational facilities, religious and historical sites, punitive and correctional centers, police stations and military bases, etc. The armed forced have conjoined efforts with MoHME especially in terms of human resources in order to offer a more comprehensive response; especially, upon request for surge hospital capacity.
COVID-19 detection kit has been produced in country, in addition to production of 20,000 liters of antiseptic solutions as well as 20,000 filtered masks (95N respirator and activated carbon 750 face masks) produced per diem. Half of the said amount of masks is being produced by military uniform production line. Iran’s Judiciary, in coordination with the Executive branch has approved a large number of inmates’ approved requests for leave.
At the same time, the country’s judiciary system is seriously confronting hoarding of basic commodities to ensure that the public has access to basic godos and services. Ministry of Industries and Mines has increased the production of rubbing alcohol and other medical and hygienic supplies by 50%. Ministry of Interior, for its part, is coordinating efforts through its Disaster Management Council while also tapping into the potentials and resources of NGOs, charities, Iranian Red Crescent Society and the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation.
Municipalities, City and District Councils have likewise been engaged and efforts are being harmonized through dissemination of uniform guidelines and checklists especially with regards to sewage and waste management, disinfecting public places, sensitization campaigns and information dissemination among the public. Ministry of Foreign Affairs is following up on establishing humanitarian channels to receive international emergency aid assisting Iranians stranded in airports in different parts of the world while simultaneously collaborating with other countries in combating the pandemic.
Non-governmental organizations and the private sector, have so far provided expert volunteer human resources, goods and other services especially to the more vulnerable social groups such as children of labor, March 15, 2020 – Tehran Association for Protection of Refugee Women and Children (HAMI) the invalid and the economically deprived social groups. Iranian Red Crescent Society, has established production lines to produce three-layered maks, hospital gowns, and disinfectant solution. It is, at the same time, distributing hygiene kits in deprived areas, safe houses and shelters. They are screening passengers entering each province while disseminating information to them.
Sanctions Imposed on Iran
Despite all the above, the virus is spreading relentlessly. In light of the number of people who have contracted the virus in a very vast country with densely populated urban areas, there is a need to procuring goods and equipment to be able to provide a prompt response to the situation. However, the sanctions have hampered with Iran’s access to critical humanitarian assistance. Different experts blame the sanctions for the ongoing spread.
Iran is one of the countries most hardly hit by COVID-19 and it has been battling the aftermaths of major economic sanctions which is now evidently taking its toll on the health and well-being of its citizen. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has recently submitted a letter to the UN’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres requesting an end on the US-imposed sanctions which is hampering with the COVID-19 prevention and treatment in Iran. Furtheremore, Iran’s Chamber of Commerce has issued a letter directed to Paul Polman, head of Intl Chamber of Commerce, outlining the difficulties, requesting the international community to help send medical supplies to the country.
Official Facts and Figures
As of Saturday, March 14, accoding to Ali Akbar Haghdoost – Deputy Minister of MohME – 11,364 individuals have been diagnosed with the virus, 3,529 of whom have already been cured, and 514 have unfortunatelydeceased.
There are 1.4 times more men than women in the above statistics and the average age of people diagnosed stands at 54, 43.7% of whom have had a medical pre-condition such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
The Plight of the Vulnerable Afghan Communities
Out of the nearly one million documented Afghans residing in Iran, only a mere 3% live in settlements.
The rest of the 97% in addition to a population of nearly 2.5 million undocumented Afghans live in urban or priurban areas. Most Afghans, live in large and economically challenged families where income-earners (including women and children) are mainly occupied in temporary and often hazardous activities that could nor be done from home nor paused during the pandemic as the family relies on the income to survive.
Unfortunately, low education and awareness levels coupled with lack of access to personal protection equipment due to financial reasons, the vulnerable Afghan community is highly at risk in terms of contracting the virus and spreading it further. To date, HAMI has not encountered any disaggregated data indicating the number of Afghans who have contracted the virus.
To help contain the spread of the virus and then assist with its aftermath, HAMI suggests a two-fold assistance:
1- During the Emergency Phase: Distribution of hygiene packs including virus protection face masks, washing liquids and disinfectant solutions. HAMI stands ready to receive this assistance in terms of goods and/or cash to locally procure the kit.
2- During the Recovery Phase: Provision of psychosocial support to families who have lost a member to COVID-19 as well as livelihoods assistance to help them absorb the economical shock while most importantly preventing resorting to negative coping strategies.
In the meantime, HAMI strongly suggests multi-level international advocacy campaigns to help urgently establish a channel enabling Iran to receive humanitarian aid in form of goods, cash and services