Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (C) during a visit to Imam Khomeini Hospital and Corona Vaccination Center in Tehran, Aug 10, 2021. (AFP)

September 24, 2021

In a surprising addition to his first address to the United Nations via a heavily-edited video this week, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took the opportunity to declare: “Iran is the medical hub of Asia”.

“Iran,” he intoned, “alongside its peaceful nuclear and satellite science, is the medical hub of Asia, and Iranian physicians and scientists such as [medieval Persian polymath] Abu Ali Sina, shine in the history of humanity. Knowledge that is useful to humanity is not subject to sanctions. We produced the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which manufactures radio-pharmaceuticals for more than one million cancer patients in the country, and we have made astonishing advances in biotechnology and stem cell research, despite the sanctions. Today, in the face of these anti-human rights sanctions, we have manufactured a vaccine for coronavirus.”

Is Iran the medical hub of Asia? Is Iran’s medical industry stronger than its equivalents in India, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia? How does Iran rank in Asia? In this report, IranWire attempts to answer these questions.

Physicians Per Capita

One key indicator the World Health Organization uses to determine how much access a population has to medical care and benefits from the country’s health system is the number of doctors per capita. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, on this score Iran ranks 105th out of 192 countries in the world with regard to physicians per capita, and no higher than 15th among Asian countries.

Looking at the number of physicians per 10,000 people, the following countries in Asia rank higher than Iran: Georgia has 51 doctors per 10,000 people, Russia has 40, Azerbaijan 34.5, Kazakhstan 32.5, Mongolia 29, Japan 24, Saudi Arabia 23.9, Uzbekistan 23.6, Jordan 23.5 , Turkmenistan 22.2, Oman 19.7, China 17.8, Turkey  17.6, and Tajikistan has 17. In 2015, Iran had just 11.4 doctors per 10,000 people. This number rose to 15.84 in 2018.

WHO regional report tallying the number of physicians, nurses and dentists per 10,000 people in the Middle East and North Africa also shows that Iran doesn’t even rank particularly high within the MENA. Almost all countries in the region are better off than Iran when it comes to doctors per capita.

Statistics produced by Iran’s Medical Council indicate that in Iran, only 104,000 physicians have professional licenses for medical practice and to perform surgery, 92,390 of whom are general practitioners and a small minority of which are physicians working in specialized areas.  Earlier this year, a major study by IranWire on the first year of coronavirus in Iran also found there were just 155 hospital beds available per 100,000 people in the country, compared to a global average of 260.

Ranking the World’s Top Medical Centers

Every year, the prestigious international journal Nature publishes a list of the top 100 most-accredited centers of medical sciences in the world. For 2018, the journal’s table of top medical centers featured seven Asian institutions, including four in China, and others in Singapore, South Korea and Israel. Not a single Iranian medical institute featured on the list.

There was no mention of Iranian medical centers in Nature’2021 report either. In 2021, 15 Asian research hubs were named among the top 100:  13 of them in China, one in South Korea and one in Japan. Nature’s findings indicate that the quality of medical scientific research in other parts of Asia has improved at a pace far outstripping that of Iran.

Asia and the World’s Top Pharmaceutical Companies

Another measure of a country’s medical industry and healthcare system is the performance of its pharmaceutical industry. The Pharmaceutical Executive Institute also publishes an annual list of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies in the world. As with the Nature rankings, its 2019 Pharm Exec 50 report did not include any Iranian firms. But it did cite 12 companies elsewhere in Asia: in Japan, Israel, India, Hong Kong and China.

Biotech consultant firm Novasecta also publishes its own list of the world’s top 100 pharmaceutical companies. In 2019, 36 firms in Asia made the grade: all located in  Japan, Israel, China, India and South Korea. Once again, Iran did not receive a mention.

Iranian pharmaceutical companies are also not among the most reputable in Asia and struggle to gain ground in the global drugs market.According to a report by World Top Exports, Iran ranked 86th in the world and 25th in Asia in 2020 forcountries with the largest amounts of drug exports: below Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as the more obvious top Asian exporters such as India, Singapore, China and Japan.

Conclusion

“Iran is the medical hub of Asia,”  Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi claimed in his speech to the UN on Tuesday, September 21. However, IranWire’s survey shows:

1- Iranian medical research centers do not rank among the top 100 in the world, according to the world’s leading scientific journal. In 2021, 15 scientific centers in Asia – all in China, South Korea and Japan — made this list, as did other countries such as Singapore and Israel in previous years.

2. Iranian pharmaceutical companies are not among the top 100 in the world in terms of expert rankings. Firms in other Asian countries including Japan, Israel, China, India and South Korea, however, have been named among the best in the field.

3. Iran ranks 85th in the world in terms of pharmaceutical exports, and 25th in Asia. Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Indonesia are among the countries in the region exporting more drugs annually than Iran.

4. Iran has between 11 and 15 physicians per 100,000 people. This is not only a very low figure for Asia, but also below average for the Middle East and North Africa. Iran ranks 105th in the world rankings for the average number of physicians per capita, and 15th in Asia.

IranWire therefore awards President Ebrahim Raisi a “Pinocchio lie” badge for his claim that Iran is the medical hub of Asia.

Pinnochio lie: A statements that has been proven to be untrue, or which has, based on existing research and evidence, been refuted. In other words, a blatant lie.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.