WHO sends medics and supplies to Iran as coronavirus death toll rises

WHO sends medics and supplies to Iran as coronavirus death toll rises
The WHO has warned that stocks of medical supplies are running low worldwide.
3 min read
02 March, 2020
More than $300,000 worth of supplies has been sent to Iran [Getty]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday sent its first planeload of assistance to Iran to help fight the novel coronavirus, as the death toll from the outbreak in the Islamic Republic rose to 66.

Six medics have been dispatched along with 7.5 tonnes of medical equipment and supplies, including test kits, aboard a UAE military aircraft, said Robert Blanchard from the WHO in Dubai.

Iran said on Monday that the new coronavirus had killed another 12 people in the Islamic Republic, raising the country's overall death toll from the virus to 66.

The number of confirmed cases leapt by 523 from the previous day, to a total of 1,501, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi told a news conference.

Iran has seen the deadliest outbreak of the new coronavirus outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak

The worst-hit places were Tehran, the central province of Qom and Gilan in the north, Raisi said, adding that 291 people had recovered. 

Qom, a Shia Muslim holy city, was the scene of Iran's first reported cases and deaths from the outbreak.

Experts are worried over Iran's response to the crisis, as the country's rate of deaths to infections, around 5.5 percent, is much higher than other countries.

That rate likely means the number of people infected with the virus is higher than currently thought.

In South Korea, for example, more than 4,300 people have been diagnosed with the virus, also known as COVID-19, but fewer have died than in the Islamic Republic.

A number of top Iranian officials have also fallen ill with the new coronavirus.

Among them was Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of a council that advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mirmohammadi died in a Tehran hospital on Monday.

Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar - infamous for her role as the English-speaking spokesperson during the US Embassy hostage crisis - and former Deputy Health Minister Iraj Hirarchi have also contracted the novel coronavirus.

Medical team to Iran

Supplies worth more than $300,000 were dispatched from the UAE to Iran on Monday, Blanchard said. Among the supplies sent were gloves, surgical marks and respirators - "the critical items needed for infection prevention and control to support health care workers", he added.

The WHO official also warned that global supplies to combat the novel coronavirus are running low.

"What we see now is that demand has greatly exceeded our available stocks... and we are struggling to get access to more supplies," he explained.

The six-member medical team sent to Iran is made up of doctors, epidemiologists and laboratory specialists who will help the Islamic Republic detect and control the virus, Blanchard said.

WHO operations manager Nevien Attalla said some 15,000 health workers in Iran would benefit from the supplies which were the "first big shipment which supports the response to coronavirus". 

"Iran is a challenging country. You don't have always easy approvals to go," she said. 

Gulf states have announced a raft of measures to cut links with Iran to curb the spread of the virus, cutting off flights and telling citizens not to visit.

Some 129 cases have been confirmed across the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, many of them pilgrims returning from Iran.

"Aid should reach all people regardless of their background," Sultan Mohammed Al Shamsi, the UAE's undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, said at Dubai's Al Maktoum International Airport.

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