Although many of Iran’s provinces are still deep in the throes of the COVID-19 crisis, the situation in Sistan and Baluchistan Province is particularly dire. According to sources on the ground in the city of Zabol, between 37 and 40 people are now being infected each day; fewer than 20 new cases per day were recorded during the initial wave of the pandemic. Official statistics show that 60 percent of recent COVID-19 tests have come back positive. The severity of infections is such that, in some cases, every member of an affected family comes down with COVID. Moeinoddin Saeidi, the Majles representative for the city of Chabahar, said that more than 1,200 new cases are being identified in the province every day.
Sistan and Baluchistan Province is one of Iran’s most underdeveloped provinces, and as a result, hospitals and other healthcare facilities outside of the provincial capital of Zahedan are small and rudimentary. During the first week after the initial Iranian cases of COVID-19 were detected, two hospitals in Iranshahr, one of the province’s largest cities, were forced to tell patients they were unable to perform lung scans due to missing or faulty equipment. Hospitals in the cities of Chabahar and Khash are also lacking in facilities and have had similar problems meeting the needs of COVID-19 patients. The province’s villages and smaller towns lack hospitals altogether, resulting in a problematic influx of patients from these areas into larger cities’ hospitals. Local sources say the hospitals and even the morgues are at full capacity. Residents of Sistan and Baluchistan have responded to the overflow of medical facilities by trying to procure their own medical equipment, especially oxygen capsules, should they need to take care of themselves at home. Health Minister Saeed Namaki called the claims of overcapacity “agitation” and said that there were 400 empty beds in provincial hospitals, but a document posted online shows that orders to build two field hospitals have been issued.
In keeping with the trend in recent years of Iranian citizens organizing to meet needs unaddressed by the government, people from around the country have rushed to Sistan and Baluchistan’s aid, with grassroots charity groups pooling resources to buy necessary health and pharmaceutical supplies, such as oxygen capsules, oxygen machines, and medicinal/nutritional serum, all of which have been scarce and sometimes impossible to find in recent days; when available, prices for such supplies have doubled or even tripled. Some sources also report that Iran has rejected Doctors Without Borders’ offer to send medical teams to Iran to deal with this latest uptick in the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the gravity of the COVID-19 situation in Sistan and Baluchistan, the provincial authorities have issued a statement announcing the closure of all provincial institutions.