By Faranak Bakhtiari

Iran’s social, religious unity ‘a world model for coronavirus response’

May 10, 2020 - 21:10

TEHRAN – Iran could considerably reduce COVID-19 infections and death toll since the onset of the outbreak, the reason behind which is mainly social and religious unity among Iranians that can be run as a role model anywhere in the world, Alireza Marandi, head of Iran’s Academy of Medical Sciences has said.

Iranian people are total believers, and their paying attention to morals and ethics might be the key to their success in such crises, Marandi said in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times.
He also put emphasis on the important role of health care networks in villages and remote areas who screened people and checked their symptoms and helped them regain health and break the chain of transmission.

Health care networks key to curbing coronavirus in Iran

Marandi explained that “However, at the beginning of the outbreak, like many other countries, we have focused on treating the patients and the medical centers were dealing with a feared crowd, unaware of the dire threat it could have for the people, the virus could easily transmit to those who were not infected.

Health networks were established about 35 years ago, when I was the health minister, first we prepared a plan on setting up a comprehensive network which connected rural areas, villages, cities, and the whole country, at that time, we faced a great lack of physicians and health practitioners, so we decided to increase the capacity of universities of medical sciences and educate more medical staff.

In the Iranian calendar year 1364 (March 1985- March 1986), we had set up both health network and increased the capacity of universities of medical sciences, so the ministry of health switched to the current Ministry of Health and Medical Education; a year later, we enrolled 7,000 students in these universities.”

Then we started to establish Health Houses in the villages with two health workers for each, who were tasked with tracking the population of villages and inform them about healthcare, providing health services, and also vaccinate the people and newborns, as well as offering postpartum care, he added.

He went on to say that “it was not easy to find health workers in villages, so we first searched for a girl and a boy to learn literacy for five years, then trained medical and healthcare for two years, after that, they began activities as health workers.

Before this, we did not have any subspecialty program, we sent the patients abroad for transplant, sterility treatment, and even diagnosis of some diseases, but after increasing the capacities of universities we could achieve subspecialty which caused great currency savings.

Health networks could also lead to better education in deprived areas because before, teachers would have not stayed and work in villages due to the lack of medical facilities. “

Before the Health Houses establishment, public spending on healthcare services was more, but it offered the people high-quality services at low prices, he highlighted.

“And also, health indicators in rural areas are higher than in urban areas, which is still helping us survive such a global pandemic.

Health workers in rural areas have made great efforts in these years and we must appreciate what they have done and pay tribute to them for what they are still doing, as some of whom are even performing better than a physician.

Even if a vaccine for coronavirus is discovered and mass-produced, primary health care networks together will play a major role in injecting vaccines into villagers,” he stated.

Belief; the most significant reason behind Iranians’ unity

In comparison to other countries combatting the global epidemic, Iran is benefiting from the strong belief which initially comes from Islam; Iran almost always has been backed by God, Iranian people are total believers, and their paying attention to moral and ethics might be their key to their success in such crises, Marandi said.

“In other countries, with the onset of coronavirus, we have seen that fear has made many people rush to the markets and buy almost all the food and hygiene products, however, our country has not faced such issue in great scale, and this shows that people do not only care for themselves, and consider other people as much.

Although lock-downs have reduced people’s income or many of them faced severe difficulties, they did not forget the underprivileged families and we have witnessed a wide range of volunteer services that people were offering, numerous groups voluntarily joined hands to make face masks, disinfectants, or even cook food and distribute in deprived areas, as well as financial assistance.

Some shop owners refused to receive monthly rent to help the tenants whose businesses were affected by the outbreak. Many also have volunteered to make up for the lack of medical staff, or help reduce the burden on the nurses and health workers,” he noted.

“In some cases, people have even dedicated themselves to help and bury the dead bodies killed by the virus, which was so tough; we have not seen any bodies abandoned on the streets of Iran, unlike other countries; so it demonstrated that our people stood up for their country and people, despite shortages, restrictions, a kind of social solidarity as suggested by Islam.

Some nations were struggling with their medical staff who were tired, unpaid or overwhelmed and went on strike, However, such things have not happened in Iran, and all the medical staff stood on the front line and battle the disease, regardless of being unpaid, tired or overwhelmed.

Many of the health workers lost their lives and this dedication only originates from beliefs and morals, and this was the leading cause of disease containment.

On the other hand, Iran was not only countering the pandemic but the harsh sanctions were exacerbating the situation for the country; we could not export oil, therefore, there has not been sufficient income for the country to import necessary medical products and more importantly, the sanctions limited us from importing the required goods,” he also explained.

He further emphasized that “other countries, despite their high potential and facilities, abandoned some sections of society and treated young people, or put some people in priority, while all the people in Iran regardless of their age, nationality, religion, or any other factor were considered important and received treatment, despite hospital bed shortages, ventilators, and medical equipment.”

No discrimination in treatment of coronavirus patients

Elsewhere in his remarks, Marandi said that “in countries like the U.S. where I have been a few times before, there is an issue that only a part of the population is under the insurance coverage, and many are not so that when you are covered by the insurance, you will not receive treatment; now think that the person is also poor and cannot afford treatment costs, so that will die on the streets, and unfortunately, this is a very common issue in those countries which does not trigger off much reaction.

Black people have long been neglected in those countries, and where they live is isolated and this disrespect has turned commonplace, so, discrimination does not mean how it means in our country.

But, in Iran, we have provided millions of people with insurance coverage, even the deprived, and even the refugees.

Coronavirus in Iran had also a considerable death toll, in the beginning, each person died of the disease was precious and we regret it, so there is a need to try more and prevent any deaths.

But in comparison to other countries with full potential, income, technology advances, and numerous medical staff, Iran better handled the crisis, despite all the criticisms made to us, and all the exaggerations released by foreign media about our ways to manage the epidemic.”

Religious figures’ role in containing the disease

Marandi went on to say that “religious figures play a significant role, especially in such conditions when people are prevented to do their usual religious ceremonies in shrines or mosques, during the lock-downs. Many people even have saved money for years to take a trip to holy shrines in other cities or countries but the epidemic has put a barrier to their religious behavior.

Closing holy shrines and mosques or other religious places was not an easy decision to make, so, religious figures spent a hard time to prevent people from religious gathering and these places, and the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, reassured the people when it was decided to close the religious places, and also told the people to stay home and seriously observe the hygiene principles, therefore, the people obeyed without a doubt.

While some religious followers from around the world expressed their opposition and did not follow the rules of quarantine and went on strikes causing chaos in their country, any of which has not happened in Iran, due to the powerful influence our religious figures have on the people.”

Among Christians, some behaviors might be in contradiction with the health standards, some of them are reluctant to vaccinate their children; and when a child has jaundice and need a blood transfusion, the parents refuse and prefer the child dies, in some cases, judicial system pursues the issue and force them to save the child, he added.

Academy of Medical Sciences’ efforts to counter epidemic

Since the beginning of COVID-19 prevalence, we started holding daily meetings, sessions with scientific research centers, related organizations, experts, and reported all the findings to President Hassan Rouhani, the ministers, or the Coronavirus Combat and Prevention Headquarters, he explained.

“In particular, with the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan, it was misbelieved that fasting increases the risk of COVID-19 infection because If we stay thirsty for a long time in a day, the virus can easily enter the lungs, but we came up with a solution that people can wash their mouth several times a day to reduce the risk of infection.

Academy of Medical Sciences is mostly a think thank, we find medical and scientific solutions to some issues,” he concluded.

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