Feature: Iranian nurse braves difficulties, dangers imposed by COVID-19, U.S. sanctions

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by Xinhua writer Gao Wencheng

TEHRAN, May 13 (Xinhua) — Despite having been pregnant for three months, Maliha Gharib Shah still worked on the frontline against COVID-19 on Wednesday, when people across the world were marking the International Nurses Day.

As the coronavirus continues to run rampant through Iran, Shah, a nurse at the heart ward of Imam Hossein Hospital in Tehran, said, “I have to help my colleagues tide over these trying times.”

At the hospital, to deal with this unprecedented health crisis, even beds in sections such as clinics and the injection department have been used to treat COVID-19 patients.

“Both the number of patients and our workload have also increased significantly,” Shah said, “and my colleagues and I have been under tremendous stress.”

Their immense strain was not merely caused by the ravaging virus, but the sanctions imposed by the United States. “There have always been sanctions, but with the advent of COVID-19, the impact of sanctions has doubled,” Shah said.

Since the pandemic broke out in Iran, U.S. sanctions have restricted the country’s access to its foreign currency reserves to purchase medical supplies and the raw materials needed to produce supplies locally, Javaid Rehman, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said in a report released earlier this year.

The pandemic, coupled with sanctions, has forced medical workers in Iran like Shah to work extra shifts with limited protective equipment. That explains why almost every medical worker at Imam Hossein Hospital has contracted the virus once, or like Shah, twice.

Across the country, more than 100,000 nurses have been infected with COVID-19 since the outbreak of the disease in February 2020, of whom 120 have died, Iran’s Nursing Organization said on Tuesday.

Soon after recovering from the virus, these nurses resume their duties, said Mohammad Mirzabeigi, chief of the organization.

What is more troubling, Shah said, is that “there was no medicine and not enough equipment.”

With U.S. sanctions in place, Shah said, efficient drugs, especially respiratory drugs and antibiotics, became “very rare” during this health crisis, and they were forced to determine who needs a priority care, or sometimes who is to live or die.

Gradually and fortunately, Shah and her colleagues were able to replace imported equipment with domestic alternatives and use medicines with similar efficacy. Though far from effective as foreign medicines, these alternatives have brought hope to those patients desperate for treatment, as it is better than having nothing, she said.

As summarized by the UN human rights report, “this disruption (by U.S. sanctions) has led to issues of scarcity and affordability (in medical supplies), affecting the right to health.”

Meanwhile, U.S. sanctions against Iran, which hampered the country’s ability to transfer money to import goods and slashed the country’s crude exports and oil revenues, have resulted in a steep decline in the value of the Iranian rial and a sharp rise in the price of imported goods.

A significant decline in the living standards of the Iranian people is a bigger concern.

“Sanctions are a swindle on the people, direct oppression on the poorest in society, an abuse of the rights on the sick who lack medicines, and an act of cruelty on the underprivileged who are forced to buy bread at a high price,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

As for Shah’s family, “it came to a point where our monthly salary would all be spent on the same month,” she said. “We cannot make any plans for the future.”

Against the backdrop of talks in Vienna on the future of the Iranian nuclear deal, she said, “if they (Americans) behave humanely and lift sanctions, conditions will be a lot better for ordinary people.”

Shah voiced hope that her child will “grow up in peace and tranquility, and certainly in a world free of disease and fear.” Enditem

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