U.S. Sanctions Preventing Iranians From Receiving Medicine


The United States’ sanctions have resulted in Iranians scrambling to find life-saving medicine. Trump and his “maximum pressure” campaign has been blamed for the deterioration of health and employment in Iran’s population. While Iran is able to supply more than 90% of their own pharmaceuticals, about 4% of medicine is imported. This imported medicine is vital for cancer treatment and rare, life-threatening illnesses. Just in the past year, the price of medical services increased by 19%. The United States has insisted that medicine and humanitarian goods are not liable to sanctions but international banks still refuse to engage in business with Iran out of fear of punishment from the government. This is because despite this provision, the U.S. Treasury Department had prosecuted medical companies that sold medical supplies to the country. The previous round of sanctions imposed on Iran also led to shortages of medicine. The current administration has also made it a point to block European countries from aiding Iran in exporting necessary medicine. According to Foreign Policy, “Swiss pharmaceutical exports to Iran fell 30 percent from 235 million Swiss francs ($240 million) in 2017 to 163 million francs ($167 million) last year, according to Swiss customs data. Even though sanctions were only fully reimposed in November 2018, Swiss exports that year fell below the 173 million francs ($178 million) annual average observed from 2008 to 2015.” Iranians are experiencing monumental difficulties in trying to find their medicine at local pharmacies. Cancer and asthma patients, for example, have discontinued treatment due to scarcity or price of medicine. Many people have also turned to the black market for their needed dosage. This steep decline in aid for Iran’s healthcare system also resulted in increased unemployment. The Iranian Pharmaceutical Industries Syndicate claims that pharmaceutical manufacturers employ about 125,000 people. 

Iranians have been very vocal about their struggles in finding their medicine or receiving necessary treatment. A patient of Crohn’s diseases says, “I have to travel to other towns and cities to check if their pharmacies have the drugs. Some of them do but the prices are so high that I cannot afford them.”

Dr. Arasb Ahmadian, head of the Mahak Children’s Hospital said, “Our biggest concern is that channels to the outside world are closed.” The Mahak Children’s Hospital relies on donations to continue and with these sanctions, they are unable to receive donations from abroad even if approved by the U.S. Treasury. 

During this time, Novartis, a Swiss pharmaceutical company had said that sanctions “severely affected, if not fully ceased” life-saving medicine’s pathway into Iran. 

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had also warned in 2012 that “sanctions imposed on Iran have had significant effects on the general population including shortage of necessary items, including medicine.” 

While economic sanctions are one of the least-violent methods of punishing or coercing a country into an agreement, the results of these ongoing sanctions on Iran have reached a point of violence in depriving people of basic rights like healthcare. Sanctions worsen the situation by targeting a country’s economy and forcing the government to cut down on financial resources meant for public health purposes. For example, in 2012, Iran’s revenue dropped by $50 billion, resulting in less money being put towards health, education, public services, and social security services. Moreover, as Richard Garfield from Columbia University reported, sanctions can “reduce the capacity of the public health system to maintain food, water, air and medicines of adequate quality.” I believe that Iran will not comply with the United States’ desire to draft a new nuclear deal anytime soon which may mean the medical shortages Iran is experiencing will have to be alleviated from aid that does not originate in a Western country or comes from the black market. As these services decline, so does employment. Around 20% of the 250,000 employees in pharmaceutical fields are recent university graduates that face a future with little space for their expertise.

Sanctions have been recently imposed on Iran by President Trump in an attempt to deter Iran from increasing their nuclear stockpile and prevent the country from supporting militant groups in Syria and Yemen that are considered terrorist organizations in the United States. Iran has responded by accusing the United States of pulling out of the agreement decided on by both Iran and the United States as well as Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Trump’s goal is to hurt Iran’s economy to the point of negotiation but Iran shows no sign of compliance.

Compared to war and occupation, sanctions seem to be the ideal way to navigate the situation with Iran but as we have seen, the United States has made it increasingly difficult to allow Iran to continue running without American goods. The government has actively undermined efforts by European countries to get medicine to Iran and intimidated banks to the point where they refuse involvement with Iran. While sanctions can be temporarily beneficial, we see the population is carrying the weight of this economic war.

Kerent Benjumea

Kerent is an undergraduate International Studies student at the University of San Francisco with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies & Social Justice.
Kerent Benjumea

About Kerent Benjumea

Kerent is an undergraduate International Studies student at the University of San Francisco with minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Jewish Studies & Social Justice.