Although Moeini Zandi, vice president of the pharmaceutical importers’ union, said in a recent interview with Tejarat News that the country has no issues with the provision of pharmaceuticals and that reports of exorbitant prices are untrue, social networks have been abuzz with discussions of the high price and scarcity of medicines, especially those used to treat COVID-19.

At a time when Iran is deep into its fifth wave of the coronavirus, convalescent serum—which Iranians purchase at a pharmacy then bring to a doctor for the therapeutic procedure—as well as unproven but popular COVID medications such as favipiravir pills and vials of remdesivir are increasingly difficult to find. People in line at Tehran’s famous 13th of Aban Pharmacy on Karimkhan Zand Avenue told Fars News that the website of the national Social Security Organization, which had provided information about where to purchase medications at subsidized prices, was not operating. When medications can be tracked down, they are often being sold at three or four times the government’s set rate.

Remdesivir, for instance, is being distributed to some neighborhood pharmacies at a government-set price of 200,000 tomans (about 50 USD) per vial, but the number of pharmacies in the state distribution chain is limited, as is their supply. Given the restricted availability at such locations—and now the difficulty in even identifying them—the result has been the extremely long lines seen at such major institutional pharmacies as 13th of Aban, operated by the Iranian Red Crescent Society, and, in southern Tehran, the Army-run 29th of Farvardin Pharmacy. Others are simply paying the much higher “free market” prices. Fars News reports that a serum dosage is going for 100,000 tomans and vials of remdesivir are selling for 700,000 to a million tomans. According to a report in Farhikhtegan magazine, the prices of some drugs already on the market before the pandemic that are now used as COVID-19 treatments have risen by well over 1,000 percent.

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