Iran’s COVID-19 death toll ‘2.5 times higher’ than Health Ministry figures – Community News
Covid-19

Iran’s COVID-19 death toll ‘2.5 times higher’ than Health Ministry figures

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Dec 1, 2021 • 3:51 a.m. ET

Iran’s COVID-19 death toll ‘2.5 times higher’ than Health Ministry figures

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On November 17, the number of single vaccine doses administered in Iran passed 100 million. A health ministry official said about 80 percent of Iranians over the age of 12 have had at least one dose and 60 percent of that group have been fully vaccinated. Despite these reassuring statistics, Iran — which already has the highest number of deaths and cases in the Middle East — appears to be entering a sixth wave of COVID-19 with no end in sight.

Ideologically driven policies have disadvantaged Iran from the start of the pandemic, which has now killed more than 130,000 people, according to official (and highly underreported) statistics. Iranians attribute inadequate testing and slow vaccine roll-out to policies ordered by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite all the warnings, the regime has ordered Iranians to return to normal life, risking another rise in cases with schools reopened and workers returning to their offices.

The outbreak was initially covered up because the Qom religious center was the first hotspot for the pandemic and because the leadership did not want to postpone the February 2020 parliamentary elections. The outright lies of then Health Minister Saeed Namaki and President Hassan Rouhani, who boasted of imaginary successes in fighting the pandemic, exacerbated the situation.

Then-President Donald Trump’s belated impeachment of China also helped the regime oversimplify the pandemic into a power struggle between world leaders unconnected with Iran. However, as the international shockwaves receded and the pandemic became impossible to ignore or blame on others, the Iranian decision-making system proved unable to enact effective policies to control the spread of the disease.

Lockdown was not an option as Iran was already suffering from a deep recession, high unemployment and US sanctions. Fortunately, the first wave coincided with the Nowruz holiday in March 2020, but Iran was unable to control future outbreaks.

Vaccine Hypocrisy

The government didn’t have enough money to pre-order or invest in vaccines, while vaccine-developing countries weren’t selling to Iran — at least in the early months. Even China and Russia had reservations because the primary raw materials were made in the US. So Iran decided to opt for the domestic development of a vaccine.

The state-owned Barakat Foundation started its work when other manufacturers were already in the second or third phase of vaccine development. The foundation and the Ministry of Health announced various dates and even numbers of vaccines, such as fifty million doses by the end of the summer of 2021, but this turned out to be costly propaganda that prevented the import of vaccines even for medical personnel.

There was also a political battle over whether Iran should buy Western or Russian and Chinese vaccines, with Khamenei personally stepping in to ban US- and UK-made doses in January. In addition, there was a wave of disinformation by anti-vaccination clerics to “stop treating Iranian people like lab rats.” In the fall of 2020, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to test the third phase of China’s Sinopharm in trials. But Rouhani was not ready to risk alienating powerful clerics. In addition, his government was unable to make a down payment for the Chinese, Russian and others vaccines provided by the COVAX consortium, fearing US sanctions would block both the funds and the source of funding. While Turkey and the UAE used China’s Sinopharm vaccine to successfully control the pandemic, Iran lost precious time.

Khamenei’s ban on vaccines in the US and UK encouraged domestic opposition to all vaccines. In January, some 2,500 doctors from the hardliners’ camp — including current health minister Bahram Einollahi and his two top officials — protested against importing vaccines or investing in manufacturing them abroad.

The result was a fourth and fifth wave of COVID-19 in the first half of 2021, with Iran not only having the highest number of cases and deaths in the Middle East since the start of the pandemic, but also the least vaccinated country in the world. region. . In August, public pressure on the Supreme Leader finally forced him to end his import ban and suppress anti-vaccination campaigns (provided that Western vaccines are not made in the US and UK). Meanwhile, Ebrahim Raisi won the June presidential election and the same anti-vaccine hardliners and clerics rushed to import vaccines from any source and begin mass vaccination in the fall.

Numbers exceed what is officially reported

Excess mortality is a term that refers to the number of deaths during a crisis above and beyond expected under ‘normal’ circumstances. Technical studies conducted on excess mortality among Iranians conclude that “the death rate related to COVID-19 is 2.5 times higher than the statistics announced by the Ministry of Health,” according to a report published in April by the International Journal of Health. Infectious Diseases.

Iran’s National Civil Registration Organization reports the number of deaths across Iran on a weekly basis. Statistics show that from the start of the pandemic in January 2020 to the end of the summer of 2021, Iran experienced approximately 257,000 additional deaths. In these twenty-one months, approximately 915,000 people have died. The corresponding figure for 21-month periods in previous years was about 658,000.

The number of cases and thus the infection rate and positive tests are also underreported because of a lack of test material. The number of tests per thousand people has never exceeded 1.5 since the outbreak began in Iran. The corresponding number for other countries in the region was between 2.5 and 3.5.

By my calculations, the ratio of confirmed positive tests to the total number of tests in Iran has always been dangerously high—sometimes over 46 percent, meaning 4 to 5 people in 10 Iranians were virus positive. The rate has been falling for two months and has stabilized at around 8 to 10 percent. The corresponding percentage in Iran’s Arab neighbors is 1 to 2.2 percent.

The number of cases per 100,000 people was in double digits until early November, falling to a single digit level just two weeks ago. The number of daily tests was about 25,000 per day in August 2020 and gradually increased to 105,000-110,000 in August 2021. Had the testing rate been at the regional average of 3 percent, the total number of cases in Iran would have been nearly thirteen million, or more than twice the 6,069,559 cases reported by the Department of Health on Nov. 19. These higher numbers also support an excess mortality rate of 220 percent.

That said, the general trends of the daily figures reported by the Ministry of Health and the movements of the indices can be considered correct. No one can be sure of the accuracy of absolute numbers unless and until the number of daily tests has risen to an acceptable range. However, the trend of daily cases clearly points to the end of the fifth wave, with a decreasing number of cases and fatalities.

But the danger is not over yet. With the reopening of schools and universities, risky businesses such as movie theaters and growing international concern about the omicron variant, Iranians are constantly hearing warnings — even from the regime — that such policies are wrong and need to be reviewed. Otherwise, a sixth wave of increasing cases and fatalities will be inevitable.

The author, who is well versed in the Iranian political scene, asked to remain anonymous.

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Image: An Iranian nurse cares for patient suffering from COVID-19 in a hospital as cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) increase in Tehran, Iran on July 28, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS