TEHRAN — In February, Ali went with his mother on a pilgrimage to the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad in northeastern Iran. At 15, he is very ambitious. At the shrine, he prayed to become a famous actor like Mohammed Reza Golzar and drive a Maserati. Ali’s prayers also included a trip to Germany. “They have great soccer over there.” He prayed for his health too.
Because it has been unable to obtain the original software, Mahak has been forced to look for third-party alternatives. None of those, however, have worked properly. Without the original software, the linear accelerator has limited applications and works just like a regular radiotherapy machine — in other words, without the 3-D capability to attack tumors with enhanced accuracy.
According to a report published on the Iranian news site Khabar Online in October 2012, at some point 50 lifesaving drugs were unavailable in the country. Medicine shortages exacerbate what is already a stressful situation for families with a cancer patient and are compounded by high inflation rates — more than 30 percent annually — and a devalued currency, the rial.
Ali’s father has lost his job twice since October, first at a shipping company and then at a taxi agency, because of his frequent leaves of absence to visit or assist his son. Still, Ali’s mother said, “We have been fortunate,” explaining that Mahak underwrote the entire cost of her son’s treatment and hospitalization over four years.
A psychologist who works with pediatric cancer patients in Tehran remembers a mother and her 11-year-old son whose initial cheerfulness slowly mutated into daily arguments between them as his health deteriorated. The mother’s patience began to wear thin as the difficulties caused by the disease compounded marital problems. The woman became a nervous wreck. “She kept blaming her kid for her problems with her husband and her life,” the psychologist said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But sanctions may not be the sole reason behind the shortages. In December 2012 then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fired Health Minister Marziyeh Vahid Dastjerdi, the first woman to hold a Cabinet position in Iran, for saying that only a quarter of the $2.4 billion set aside for medicine imports was provided in 2012. “I have heard that luxury cars have been imported with subsidized dollars, but I don’t know what happened to the dollars that were supposed to be allocated for importing medicine,” Dastjerdi declared on state TV.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has followed the issue of medicine shortages in Iran closely. According to Faraz Sanei, an Iran researcher for HRW, “We have also reached out to the Iranian government, without success so far, to better understand the extent to which other factors … may have played a role in reducing access to medicines and medical equipment.”