Iran refuses coronavirus help from 'foreign' MSF, fearing doctors could be 'spies'

Iran refuses coronavirus help from 'foreign' MSF, fearing doctors could be 'spies'
Iran has rescinded its invitation to Doctors Without Borders to build hospitals in the country to help with the coronavirus epidemic after the Supreme Leader peddled conspiracy theories.
3 min read
25 March, 2020
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [Getty]
Iran has turned down "foreign aid" from medical NGOs to help tackle the burgeoning coronavirus epidemic, as 2,000 people in the country die from the disease.

Iranian officials rejected the offer of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to build a hospital in Isfahan despite new documents that show Tehran was the one to reach out to the organisation for help.

MSF is an international humanitarian NGO that provides doctors and other medical aid to areas in need.

The document, seen by Iran International, shows three ministries - health, interior, and foreign affairs - had invited MSF doctors to Iran to help deal with the virus.

It mentions that the organisation could build field hospitals in the hard-hit country and open up a flow of information exchange with Iranian doctors and other medical staff.

In a surprise u-turn the government rescinded its invitation after Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused Washington's assistance, by peddling a conspiracy theory that the disease was created by the US government.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: "I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?"

"Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more."

He went on to claim the virus "is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians, which they have obtained through different means".

Read More: Trapped between Israel's occupation and coronavirus: How are Palestinians coping with the pandemic?

"You might send people as doctors and therapists, maybe they would want to come here and see the effect of the poison they have produced in person," Khamenei said.

Later, Alireza Vahabzadeh, adviser to Iran's health minister released a statement ruling out foreign aid.

"Due to Iran's national mobilisation against the virus and the full use of the medical capacity of the armed forces, it is not necessary for now for hospital beds to be set up by foreign forces, and their presence is ruled out."

In response, MSF crisis response head Michel-Olivier Lacharite said: "We are surprised to learn that the deployment of our treatment unity is cancelled."

He added the group had initially been given approval to set up a 50-bed unit, and said MSF was ready to deploy to Iran if the country changed its mind.
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Iran has been one of the hardest hit countries in the region, with an outbreak that has led to more than 24,811 cases, putting pressure on the heavily pressured health service.

Iranian ministers, MPs and generals have also been infected by the virus, and earlier this month Nasser Shabani, a top military commander in Iran’s IRGC forces was confirmed dead from the disease.

Despite its rejection of MSF Tehran has appealed to the international community for aid – and to ignore the crippling US sanctions.

In response, the European Union has said it would provide 20 million euros in aid to Iran, to help with the coronavirus epidemic.

"We've not been able to provide a lot of humanitarian help but there is some 20 million euros in the pipeline ... that we expect to be delivered over the next weeks," Borrell said, according to Reuters.

"We also agree in supporting the request by Iran and also by Venezuela to the International Monetary Fund to have financial support," he said in a video conference with other EU foreign ministers.

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