By Pouyan Khoshhal
October 24, 2020
As October came to a close, the daily coronavirus death toll in Iran exceeded 300, although several health officials claim these figures are not reliable. In addition to this dispute, health minister Saeed Namaki has regularly made assertions that have been denied or contradicted by other officials in the ministry only days later.
On October 20, Namaki made a number of public claims, one of which was that official daily coronavirus figures published by his ministry were among the most accurate in the world. Referring to the handling of Covid-19 pandemic in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, he said, “of course we are not happy about the suffering of anybody on this earth, but you saw what disaster unfolded outside their hospitals and in their parks. And this in countries that had 10 times the number of beds we have, had ICUs, had 20 times our personnel, who were receiving their salaries on time. Then they claimed that Iran is not announcing the correct number of fatalities. But, as God is my witness, the figures from the Islamic Republic are among the most accurate statistics in the world, they can all be defended and they are based on the most updated evidence.”
Namaki’s statements can be examined from two angles. Are the figures announced by the Islamic Republic reliable? Is the epidemic doing more damage in other countries than it is in Iran?
“The daily death toll from coronavirus has reached 337, although this is not the real number,” said Dr. Masoud Mardani, a specialist in contagious diseases and a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee, on October 20. “To know how many really die per day we must multiply this number by 2.5.”
“We treat many people for coronavirus patients but since they have not tested positive we do not include them in coronavirus fatalities,” said First Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi on October 14. “In Iran we add the numbers like other countries do, but the number of deaths could be between 1.5 and 2.2 times the figures that are announced.”
One person who has challenged Namaki’s claims is no other than the minister’s own advisor, Mohammad Esmail Akbari. “Countries that go on TV and say their coronavirus situation is bad are doing much better than us,” he said in an interview on Iranian TV. “We are getting to be a bad country.”
And on October 17, his deputy Iraj Harirchi said: “the rate of coronavirus infections is now the worst since the pandemic started. Hospitals have no empty beds whatsoever, patients are waiting in line to be hospitalized and the number of patients in critical condition and elderly patients has risen a lot.”
Nevertheless, Saeed Namaki continues to insist that “no coronavirus patient in Iran has been kept out of the hospital,” that Iran’s official statistics are the most reliable in the world and that other countries are in a much worse situation than Iran.
According to the latest figures announced by the health ministry, as of October 23, 4,658,727 coronavirus tests have been carried out in Iran. Iranian officials claim these tests are available to people for free.
But the news website Rokna disputed this assertion. “No coronavirus test is free. You have to pay even at government hospitals. If you are poor you have no option but to die!” The report investigated the cost of testing, and said, based on inquiries from hospitals, clinics and labs, the price of a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which is done by taking samples from the nose or the throat, at private hospitals ranges from between 600,000 and 700,000 tomans ($145-$170). In addition, the patient must also pay for the service of the doctor who performs the test. The price of a coronavirus blood test ranges from between 150,000 and 400,000 tomans ($36-$96) and a lung scan can cost between 400,000 and 600,000 tomans ($96-$145).
People can go to government hospitals if they show symptoms, but they must wait in a long line for the emergency ward and are then tested — but not for free. Patients are required to pay.
“There are no hospitals in Tehran that will do a coronavirus test entirely for free,” said Dr. Minoo Moharez, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee. “If you have insurance, government hospitals will charge you at the government rate.”
Furthermore, if a person is hospitalized, he or she must pay for the bed and the necessary drugs whereas, when the pandemic started, government officials and insurance spokespeople had promised they would offer many services to Covid-19 patients for free.
“I believe that people who have no money and are covered by the [Imam Khomeini] Relief Foundation and the Welfare Organization must be treated totally for free,” said Dr. Masoud Mardani. “Why must some people avoid going to hospitals and resort to self-treatment because they are afraid of the costs? Why — with the lack of good management and the lack of budget for free treatment — are the costs of treating coronavirus patients without money so high that they end up in the graveyard?”
Iran’s Latest Coronavirus Statistics
In her daily briefing for October 23, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:
Dr. Lari also reported that all 31 Iranian provinces are in red, orange or yellow states of alert.