Despite their reputation as champions of the public good, doctors and nurses living under Iran’s theocratic regime are being ignored as the nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
Iranian healthcare workers say that the Iranian government and its Shia religious leaders have allowed the virus to spread uncontained as death tolls rise—and they are now hiding the results of their disastrous policies.
Officially, the Iranian government has reported roughly 110,000 cases and 6,700 deaths from COVID-19. Unofficially, per the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group, the coronavirus death toll exceeds 39,300 in 313 cities across Iran. (The MEK releases death tolls for each province. In contrast, the Iranian government only reports the overall death toll for the entire country and omits such details.)
Per an ABC News report on Tuesday, Iranian medical workers say the country was headed for catastrophe from day one. During the first 90 days of the outbreak, “about one healthcare worker died each day and dozens became infected.”
Through a series of interviews, ABC News found that medical staffers were ill-equipped to deal with cases. Due to a shortage of personal protective equipment, doctors and nurses were forced to wash and sterilize their own gowns and reuse masks. Some resorted to makeshift equipment, including plastic bags. These efforts were in vain as professionals became victims to the disease.
Even as healthcare workers died and hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients, the Iranian government delayed telling the public about the severity and scope of the disease, according to the report. Medical professionals were also discouraged from wearing masks out of fear that doing so would alarm the public.
Iranian officials have reportedly kept the numbers low by attributing deaths to respiratory distress and heart failure — refusing to issue death certificates for most victims whom healthcare professionals believe to have succumbed to the coronavirus.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected help from the United States, and latched onto conspiracy theories about how US aid would worsen the effects of the virus.
“I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?” Khamenei said in a March address. “Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more.”
Khamenei also claimed, falsely, that the coronavirus was engineered to kill Iranians, alleging that it is “specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians, which they have obtained through different means. You might send people as doctors and therapists, maybe they would want to come here and see the effect of the poison they have produced in person.”
Other high-profile Iranians, including religious leaders, made false claims about defeating the virus by advising their flock to lick the walls of holy sites. The BBC reported in March that religious clerics believe the shrines have “divine powers that can cure diseases,” prompting visitors to kiss, touch, and lick its surfaces—some of which became viral videos on Twitter.
The ABC News report also states that despite a decline in both daily infections and deaths in the official statistics, local authorities are expanding gravesites. Iran’s capital city of Tehran reportedly added 10,000 new graves to its largest cemetery, Behesht e-Zahra.
Even as the death toll continues to rise, Iran remains steadfast in its embrace of conspiracy theories and continues to blame the United States for its inability to control the situation. A spokesman for the country’s Health Ministry told the Associated Press to, “Remember this is a country under [US] sanctions.” He insists that Iran has everything under control.