The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll all over the globe, causing severe socioeconomic disruption, the stock market crash, millions of job losses, the postponement or cancellation of cultural and political events, and widespread fears of supply shortages resulting in panic purchasing. The coronavirus, which causes a respiratory disease known as COVID-19, is currently affecting more than 200 countries and territories. It has so far infected over 1.6 million people and killed around 100,000 others. The fact that, unlike many historical pandemics, the ongoing disaster has hit hardest the most developed countries of the world, even their most developed regions, left most of them surprised and unprepared. Thus, virtually all countries in the most difficult days sought and received foreign assistance, whether from other countries or international organizations. On the other hand, there is also a country which, given the imposed circumstances, is forced to fight completely alone.
Iran reported its first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 infections on 19 February 2020 in the city of Qom, probably brought to the country by merchants who had travelled to China, and in the following days became a center of the spread of the virus in the region, as well as the second-worst affected country in the world. In the first week of March, Iran reported dozens of dead and hundreds infected each day, next only to China as the pandemic’s epicenter. At the same time, the government closed schools, universities, shopping centers, bazaars, holy shrines, and cancelled public events and festival celebrations. As confirmed cases mounted, health ministry announced that checkpoints would be placed between cities to limit travel. The unprecedented situation has left Iran in need of masks, respirators and other medical equipment, but imports are virtually impossible due to unilateral U.S. trade sanctions.
On its own feet
Faced with such inhumane anti-Iran policy, unseen in the history of economic warfare, Iran turned to its own resources. The government has allocated 1,000 trillion rials (about $24 billion) to help lessen the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the national economy. In early March, a five-day World Health Organization (WHO) technical support mission that included German and Chinese experts, confirmed Iranian rapid improvements in its testing capacity. When the team arrived, Iran had only 22 testing laboratories, and by the time they left on 10 March, there were around 40 laboratories. Five days later, Alireza Beglari who heads the Pasteur Institute of Iran (IPI), the flagship organization fighting infectious diseases in the country, announced that the country is daily doing 6,000 coronavirus test at 50 laboratories, and two weeks later, he also announced that the numbers had risen to 20,000 tests and 100 labs.
At the same time, several Iranian biomedicine companies have obtained certificates from health authorities to produce COVID-19 testing kits on a commercial scale, each producing at least 80,000 kits a week. Besides diagnostic testing, Iran’s health authorities have screened over 10 million people for symptoms until 15 March, 41 million a week later, and 65 million by the end of the month. By early April, Iran conducted about a quarter of a million diagnostic tests, as much as France and the United Kingdom.
Various governmental organizations have also demonstrated tremendous efforts and success in fighting the pandemic. Iran’s Volunteer Basij Force Organization has unveiled portable rapid testing laboratories, delivering the ultimate result in just two hours. Iran also unveiled homegrown smart software that helps physicians diagnose the novel coronavirus pneumonia with the help of artificial intelligence that is used to analyze computed tomography (CT) scans. The software has been developed in a joint project involving researchers from various Iranian universities in only one month. According to the professor of AI technologies at Sharif University, software’s error margin in detection of COVID-19 is much lower than the similar ones developed by China and Stanford University of the U.S.
Researchers at Shahid Beheshti University also developed diagnostic kits that could be used to diagnose the disease in 20 minutes, as well as anti-coronavirus masks and light ventilators. The university has developed six scientific-research departments to help authorities in charge of the health sector in their efforts to curtail the outbreak. Numerous scientific institutions have become involved in the development of drugs and therapies for the coronavirus, including stem cell scientist Dr. Masoud Soleimani, recently illegally detained in a U.S. prison, who is developing a method which uses mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) to treat coronavirus patients.
The Headquarters for Executing Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO) known as Setad, mobilized all the equipment at hand to provide the necessities of the people and the sanctioned medicines in the very beginning of the outbreak. To date, their services include 25 million three-layered and N95 masks, launching a production line of medical masks despite U.S. attempts to prevent Iran from having breathing machines (respirators), production of Iranian test kit for coronavirus infection, research on the medicine of the disease, launching the 4030 phone line with the help of 2,200 doctors and paramedics for answering people’s questions about coronavirus, breaking the monopoly of the U.S. in making oxygen concentrator (with producing 50 machines every day), production of 400,000 liters of disinfectant gel, etc.
Ruptly reported that the organization’s “authorities also inaugurated a mask manufacturing facility that is reportedly the largest in Southwest Asia amid soaring demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in a town of Eshtehard, Alborz province on Tuesday.
The head of the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, Mohammad Mokhber said the factory will produce every day four million masks equipped with a nano filter, which guarantees a high level of protection.
The Barakat Foundation, an EIKO subsidiary, launched a production line with a capacity of manufacturing 1.5 million three-layer face masks containing nanofibers. Hadi Johari, its deputy director, expressed hope that the company could be able to increase its face mask production to three million per day, thus being able to meet a major part of the domestic demand for the product. Commenting on Barakat Foundation’s measures to curb the coronavirus spread in Iran, he said since the beginning of the outbreak, a company in northwestern Iran affiliated to the foundation, which solely produced hospital gowns, began manufacturing isolation gowns once the country was faced with a shortage in this regard. He put the daily number of isolation gowns produced by the company at between 2,000 and 2,500, noting that it has so far manufactured 35,000 isolation gowns and distributed them among the country’s hospitals and medical centers.
Commenting on face mask production by the foundation, Johari said a number of small clothing workshops across the country are working in this field under the supervision of the foundation. He said these workshops are mostly located in deprived areas and rural districts, adding they produce close to 70,000 face masks per day, which are distributed in the regions where they are located. Johari said manufacturing face masks in the deprived areas has led to a surge in their production and job opportunities. He noted that Barakat Foundation has distributed, through medical and health centers, isolation gowns, face masks and disinfectants among people in seven deprived areas in the country, including regions in the provinces of Yazd, Sistan and Baluchestan and Kerman, as well as northeastern parts.
Increased demand for masks has given rise to an amazing phenomenon, namely temporary conversion of mosques and holy shrines into local mask factories. Inside the Imamzadeh-Masum mosque, located south of the capital city of Tehran, women have taken up positions in front of table-top sewing machines to produce face masks, while other women fold and arrange the printed sheets of material as they are produced. In another room, men sitting on prayer mats make plastic gloves with rudimentary heat-sealing devices. “We distribute these products to hospitals and deprived areas in Tehran and several other cities,” explained Fatemeh Saidi, a 27-year-old woman involved in the Basij with her husband. The holy shrine of Shah Cheragh in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz has also been turned into a workshop for local women producing more than 3,000 masks a day. Rated by many travellers as the most beautiful mosque in the world, the Shah Cheragh today is the most beautiful factory in the world.
In a similar way, the Iran Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall which was built during the harshest sanctions, has been transformed into 3,000-bed COVID-19 hospital. The Iranian Armed Forces has prepared hospitals with thousands of beds from Tehran to Bushehr, and the elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has provided the National Headquarters for Coronavirus Management with 24 permanent hospitals and 13 mobile hospitals, along with 380 military clinics in different cities. In a speech at the IRGC’s biological base, Major General Salami said the IRGC’s Baqiatallah Hospital has provided the largest number of beds for coronavirus patients in the country and has one of the biggest virus diagnostic laboratories.
The results of the above efforts are abundantly clear. According to the latest updates released by the Iranian Health Ministry, coronavirus has so far infected 66,000 people and killed 4,100 others. The country’s ranking in the number of confirmed cases has, however, dropped from second place to the eight over the past month. Today, Iran ranks behind the United States, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, China, and the United Kingdom. In comparison to all these countries, except China, Iran has the fewest active cases and fewest deaths per million people, as well as the highest number of total recovered. The number of infections and mortality in Iran are also on a downward trend for more than a week, unlike in most other countries. All this Iran’s success has been achieved with less resources, time and experience, and with the lion’s share of organizations labeled “terrorist” or “fancy corporations” by the United States.