The problem has been compounded by a collapse in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, meaning that the cost of medicine and other imported supplies has risen dramatically.
The chiefs of Iran’s medical schools recently wrote a letter to the government in which they complained of a 350 percent increase in the price of medical equipment, delays to essential medical projects and overdue payments to insurance companies.
Ordinary citizens, too, have expressed frustration with their government.
Zohreh, a 60-year-old housewife, said the price for her daughter’s epilepsy drug has doubled in the past three months. “When I ask why they have raised the price, they say we have a shortage of the medicine,” she said. “The government must help poor people like us.”
Mojtaba, who has a thriving private family practice in central Tehran, said: “This isn’t a situation that can persist for more than a couple of months. The human cost and the potential national expense of caring for too many sick people can’t be ignored.”
Some industrious Iranians near the border with Turkey are advertising their ability to deliver hard-to-find medicines. They simply cross the border, purchase the medication and use couriers to make deliveries throughout Iran. Meanwhile, some doctors are advising their patients to fly to neighboring countries to purchase the drugs they need.
But for the millions of Iranians who cannot afford such arrangements, it has been hard to adjust to a world of diminished health resources.
One of the tenets of the Islamic republic since its inception in 1979 has been universal health care. Any working Iranian is entitled by law to insurance coverage from their employer. Even privatized health care is greatly subsidized and had been relatively affordable until the past several months.
While sanctions have forced many Iranians to adjust their consumption habits, accepting less from the health-care system is a sacrifice few seem willing to make.
“I can reduce our family’s intake of certain foods and utilities, even basic things like chicken and rice, and still survive,” said Massoud, a 28-year-old office worker. “But when someone in my family or I gets sick or needs surgery, it’s not something I can just ignore.”