Iran / Yumna Ansari
The issues posed by COVID-19 in Iran are inherently political. The cutting of the use of the internet, the poor working conditions and releasing of prisoners paints a draconian picture for the country. Despite having a relatively strong and diverse health system, Iran remained one of the hardest hit countries during the virus’s initial outbreak.
The policies and functions of Iran’s theocratic government of Iran are guided by Shia Islamic ideologies. Ali Khamenei leads the country, with Hassan Rouhani as the current president. Despite a turbulent political history, Iran has made significant progress with respect to its health system and increased the longevity of its 81 million citizens.
Iran’s health system is a combination of the public and private sector. More than 90% of the population is covered by some form of national health insurance that includes employees in the formal sector, students, rural dwellers and as well as the poor. The private sector mainly prioritises secondary and tertiary care in urban areas and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also play a role in delivering healthcare to marginalised groups.
Iran’s GDP per capita is $5,627 and its expenditure on health is 8.5% of GDP, amounting to $475 per capita in 2017. In terms of the healthcare workforce, Iran had 1 doctor and 2 nurses per 1000 in 2015. In 2014, the number of hospital beds stood at 1.5 per 1000. In response to COVID-19, Iran has been ramping up their production of ventilators as well as welcoming a delivery of 2000 ventilators into the country.
Civil and political rights
One of the first responses by the government to curb the spread of the virus was releasing over 70,000 prisoners. However, this did not come about without riots from the prisoners themselves prior to the mass release, who spoke out against the unhygienic conditions, the authorities’ negligence and lack of testing within prison. The upheaval was violently suppressed by police forces.
A leaked memo by the State Security Forces (SSF) read: “Take the necessary and precautionary measures to prevent any disorder and disruptive security issues in prisons,” in some cases resulting in the abhorrent killing of prisoners.
The dissemination of vital information through the media is crucial in order to get a grip on the enormity of the pandemic. Yet, many regimes have turned to censorship and suppression of news coverage to control the narrative. In response to the crisis, Iran has stepped up measures to restrict information, in an attempt to avoid panic in the community as well as criticism of the government in how they are dealing with the spread of the virus. This includes cutting off the use of the internet and threatening journalists.
Social and economic rights
Iran has pledged to help mitigate the economic meltdown by asking the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $5 billion in emergency funding. Now that Iran is facing a gradual downward trend of cases, the country has vowed to protect its citizens through the gradual reopening of ‘low-risk’ businesses. Such measures are imperative in order to preserve its economy that has already dwindled due to US sanctions.
To alleviate the pressure on it citizenry, the government has ordered delays in payment of business tax and loan repayments until May and has also decided to provide cash handouts of about $400 to six million lower-income residents with no permanent jobs.
However, amid the outbreak of the virus, miners are being forced to work in hazardous conditions such not maintaining social distances and using facilities with little fresh airSuch working conditions pose significant increased risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 (see also here). Despite or because their affiliation with the government, these mining companies are not stepping in to reimburse the miners who wish to stay at home.