Friday, December 28, 2012

28-Dec-12: Two sharply different understandings of what the death of a fifteen year-old child in Iran signifies

From "Iran experiencing luxury car boom" [source]
From bitter experience, we know how much can be learned about a country's values by how it relates to the deaths of its children.

Six weeks ago, the Guardian (UK) published a heart-rending news item over the by-line of Saeed Kamali Dehghan, reporting on the death of an Iranian boy,  Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi. The fifteen year old suffered from haemophilia, a genetic disorder in which the body's ability to control bleeding and blood clotting is impaired. The well-publicized report is headed
Iranian boy 'dies after sanctions disrupt medicine supplies': Trade restrictions and measures imposed on Iranian banks by US and EU blamed for drug shortages
Dehghan, an Iranian journalist writing for the Guardian, le Monde and other prestigious Western outlets, was the Foreign Press Association's Journalist of the Year in 2010, and a recipient of the 70th annual Peabody Award for film. His work has appeared on CNN, CBC, France 24, the UK's Channel 4 and HBO. [He also has his detractors.]

If like us you read the Guardian article from start to finish, you will see not a single word suggesting there might be a different side to the account of Manouchehr's sad end, other than the interpretation placed on it by the officials of the Iranian government. It was 
due to a shortage of medicine in the country... the first civilian death said to be directly linked to the impact that western economic sanctions are having on the Islamic republic... His family failed to find the vital medicine he desperately needed for his disease, Iran's state news agencies reported on Wednesday.The news was announced by Ahmad Ghavidel, the director of Iran's haemophilia society. He blamed Esmaili-Liousi's death on the US and EU for their punitive measures against Tehran, which are also hitting imports of medicine and hospital equipment. Although sanctions are not directly targeting Iranian pharmacies and medical sectors, measures imposed on Iranian banks and trade restrictions have made life extremely difficult for patients across the country, who are facing difficulties in finding medicines made outside Iran. "This is against human rights … Even in wars, women and children and patients are protected by some impunity based on international treaties," Ghavidel said, according to quotes carried by the state Irna news agency. "But sanctions hitting medicine in Iran are causing a silent death and are a ploy to hurt the health of Iranian people." 
Saeed Kamali Dehghan's November 14
article in the Guardian
The Guardian's - and Saeed Kamali Dehghan's - report dovetails closely with an earlier news item carried by the notorious Fars News Agency (affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps) in November, which provided a soapbox for the president of the Iranian Academy of Medical Sciences to complain bitterly  
about the medical impact of the sanctions in a letter to Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general. Dr. Marandi called the sanctions brutal measures that had increased mortality rates “as a result of the unavailability of essential drugs and shortages of medical supplies and equipment” [more]
Fars says the US and other Western countries are
Targeting Iranian Children through Sanctions [FARS headline
but the reality, as happens so often with news reports appearing in the highly-ideological end of the journalistic spectrum that the Guardian occupies, and with the overt propaganda of Iran's state-controlled media, is different. 

Yesterday (Thursday), the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 
appointed a caretaker health minister, Mohammad Hassan Tariqat-Monfared, and had told him in a presidential decree that the reduction of people’s health care expenses was among “the main priorities of this important ministry”
according to the New York Times. The reason Ahmadinejad had to appoint a caretaker was because, earlier the same day, he had
dismissed his health minister, the only woman to serve in the cabinet since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, after she publicly criticized the government’s response to acute shortages of medicine imports [more]
The NYT says the ousted minister, Dr. Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, a gynecologist, was appointed in 2009 and was known as an advocate for Iranian women’s rights. Last month, she irritated Iran's president by speaking out against the inadequate budget of foreign currency set aside by the Ahmadinejad regime for the purchase of medicines abroad, saying (according to Reuters):
“I have heard that luxury cars have been imported with subsidized dollars, but I don’t know what happened to the dollars that were supposed to be allocated for importing medicine..." 
Yesterday was payback day. Clearly the health minister failed to understand that in authoritarian regimes like today's Iran, while (yes) there is a need for medicine and so on, prestige vehicles [as this Tehran Times article explains] also play a key role. Think of it as a matter of political balance. And as for dead and dying children, well - they're also an issue etc.

Some of that needed balance was in evidence in a clear-eyed, straight-talking report two days ago in the Times of London (also in The Australian) which we suspect may not have been noticed by enough people, even those who are concerned about what's being done by and to Iran:

Tehran lied about boy ‘killed by sanctions’
Hugh Tomlinson | Published at 12:01AM, December 26 2012
IN death, Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi became an instant celebrity, the unwitting poster boy for Iran's growing deprivation under sanctions and the inhumanity of the West.
Five weeks on, the teenager's death has instead underlined the hypocrisy of his own government, desperate to shift the blame for a deepening health crisis amid accusations that state corruption is putting lives at at risk.
Manouchehr, a 15-year-old haemophiliac, was admitted to hospital in the southwestern town of Dezful last month, bleeding uncontrollably from a flesh wound. He died, it was claimed, because local doctors had run out of drugs to treat him. Officials and state media pounced on the tragedy, claiming the teenager as the first civilian death directly linked to the sanctions imposed by the West to curb Iran's nuclear program.
"The US and EU are behind setting regulations that disguise what are really sanctions on food and medication, which are not supposedly on their boycott lists," said Ahmad Ghavidel, head of Iran's Haemophilia Society.
It was a tragic story, but it was not true. 
Sources in Dezful and doctors have confirmed that Manouchehr fell and cut himself while hiking in the mountains. It took almost two hours for him to reach hospital. By the time he arrived, he had lost too much blood to be saved.
The shortage of medicines is real. Government data obtained by The Times confirms the country has sufficient stockpiles of drugs to last only another 100 days. Hospitals have already begun to run out of anaesthetic for operations.
But the campaign over Manouchehr's death underscored the eagerness in Tehran to blame sanctions for the crisis, shifting attention away from the toxic combination of mismanagement and corruption in the government.
Any opportunity is seized upon. Medical personnel in the town of Karaj told of an incident after the death of a 42-year-old woman from a stroke. The woman's family was approached by officials offering to pay all funeral costs if a camera crew could film the ceremony. The woman's sister was asked to record a personal message to US President Barack Obama from the graveside, blaming him and sanctions for her sister's death. The family declined. "This had nothing to do with a shortage of medicine - they were just trying to make capital out of other people's grief," said one Iranian source.
Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, Iran's Health Minister, has spoken out repeatedly against government cuts to her department. Some $US2 billion ($1.9bn) in promised funding has not materialised. The regime's response has been to launch a motion to impeach her. [And yesterday it succeeded - TOW]
Medical imports are exempt from sanctions, but the government has slashed healthcare funding as the Revolutionary Guard continues to profit from the crisis. A subsidised exchange rate, imposed by Tehran to ring-fence imports of food and medicine from Iran's currency crisis, has been exploited by the powerful militia to fund the purchase of luxury goods. Regime officials continue to enjoy world-class healthcare while choking off medical funding to ordinary citizens. Surplus drugs from Revolutionary Guard hospitals are dumped on the black market, where they are sold to health groups and civilians at three times the price.
There is much that is unhealthy in the Islamic Republic of Iran, but not only there: also in the journalistic and editorial ethos and morality of those who look and refuse to see.

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