Many Iranians are taking to social media to protest a shortage of insulin pens that is causing a life-threatening situation for potentially thousands of people.
The people posting on social media are trying to raise awareness for the lack of insulin, which they say is like “oxygen” for many diabetics, using the hashtag #ThereIsNoInsulin.
There are about 5.4 million diabetics in Iran, but many of them will never require an insulin shot. The insulin-dependent population of Iran as a whole requires about 800,000 insulin pens a month. Now pharmacies are rationing the pens, meaning some patients will not get the amount of insulin they need.
Authorities say the shortage is temporary and blame it on U.S. sanctions, smuggling, and a growing demand for insulin. People stockpiling insulin during the pandemic may also have contributed to the shortage. Regardless of the cause, however, there is no word yet on exactly when it will end.
“Sanctions have hampered the import of some drugs and medical equipment, and at times the import of insulin has been interrupted,” says Mohammad Reza Shanesaz, head of Iran’s Food and Drug Organization.
For now, insulin pens and vials may be available on the black market, but many of them are marked up to exorbitant rates that the people who need them cannot afford. According to Shanesaz, however, regular and NPH (neutral protamine Hagedorn) insulins are still abundantly available on the Iranian market.
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Shanesaz claims that the currently available insulin is not really any different from the insulin pens people are trying to get their hands on, but critics disagree, saying that many patients have become accustomed to the foreign-made insulin pens, and some are incapable of using an insulin syringe to self-inject because of age or infirmity.
Alireza Esteghamati, a member of the National Diabetes Committee, says there are “structural differences” and differences in effectiveness between the insulin pens and other insulin delivery systems available on the market. 80 percent of Iranians with diabetes use insulin pens, not only because they’re easier, but also because of these more vital differences.
“The real pressure is on children and the elderly,” said one woman in Tehran who suffers from Type 1 diabetes. “I believe sanctions are impacting patients like me,” the woman said. “The U.S. is trying to bring Iran to its knees to force it to give in to its demands. At the same time, the [Iranian] establishment has constantly proven that it doesn’t care about the lives of its people.”
She says she’s been exercising to reduce her need for insulin and doing her best to regulate her blood sugar until she can get her hands on more of the life-saving medication.
Other Iranians have been posting on social media, criticizing the government for failing to make their citizens’ well-being a priority.
“I understand that sanctions have been [choking us],” content producer and translator Mahsa Soltani tweeted. “But I know that officials who are leading the country to a point where patients are struggling to meet their basic needs are incompetent.”
U.S. sanctions on Iran do not include food and medicine, but the restrictions have still made it difficult for Tehran to purchase certain types of medicine.
“Despite existing humanitarian exemptions, broad U.S. sanctions on Iran have created obstacles, especially in terms of access to foreign currency and banking payments, for the Iranian government and importers to ensure a timely and steady flow of imported medicines and raw materials,” says HRW researcher Tara Sepehrifar.
“The direct impact of these sanctions, as well as authorities’ decisions to allocate or not allocation subsidized currencies to different brands of drugs and problem of trafficking, are ultimately resulting in an increasingly difficult and unstable situation for Iranian patients.”
Some social media posters have completely skipped over the criticisms and flat out begged for help, showcasing the desperation of their situations.
“My heart is about to stop beating from [the] stress that my diabetic father with heart disease has enough insulin only for the next two days and I can’t do anything,” writes journalist Niloofar Zolfagari.
Zolfagari was later able to get a few weeks’ worth of insulin for her father, apparently with the help of some online followers.
We can only hope that our nations are able to work together effectively soon in order to get insulin to the people who need it most and that everyone stays safe in the meantime. Our world has been through so much in the recent months, and we need to work together to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?