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Doctors Without Borders 'Deeply Surprised' At Iran's Decision To Stop Its Medical Mission

Men bury the journalist Abdollah Zavieh, who passed away due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Behesht Zahra cemetery in Tehran, March 24, 2020

The international humanitarian organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders expressed deep surprise in a statement March 24 after Iranian Health Ministry officials put a stop to its plans to launch a 50-bed intensive care field hospital in Isfahan for COVID-19 victims.

MSF has sent two chartered planes to Iran carrying equipment and the inflatable hospital, as well as specialized personnel. The statement sent to Radio Farda says they were received well by local officials in Isfahan but then health ministry officials said Iran has enough capacity and does not need help.

An adviser to the health ministry had tweeted earlier, “the Iranian Armed Forces' medical capabilities are entirely at its service, Iran did not need hospitals established by foreigners. [Therefore], the MSF presence in Iran is irrelevant.”

Iranian hardliner followers of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei were accusing MSF and its personnel of being French spies on social media and in the Iranian press. Khamenei on March 22 went as far as saying that supernatural beings were conspiring with “enemies” to attack the Iranian people.

“We are deeply surprised to learn that the approval for the deployment of our treatment unit has been revoked,” said Michel Olivier Lacharité, manager of the MSF Emergency programs in Paris. “The need for this intervention, and the authorizations needed to start it, were discussed and agreed with relevant Iranian authorities during the past weeks. Our teams were ready to start medical activities at the end of this week.”

Hossein Shariatmadari, a top confidant of Khamenei, speaking to Iran’s Fars news agency controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, implicitly accused the Paris-based MSF of being an American puppet.

Meanwhile, top Iranian officials have launched a public and diplomatic campaign to force the United States to give up its sanctions, arguing that Iran now needs resources to fight the pandemic.

MSF says it is ready to re-deploy its emergency team elsewhere in Iran, “or quickly move them to other countries in the region, where they are urgently needed to face the massive needs caused by the Covid-19 outbreak”.