A team of experts working for Doctors Without Borders have been in limbo in Iran since Sunday as politicians wrangle over whether to accept urgently-needed foreign aid to combat the coronavirus.
While President, Hassan Rouhani is quoted on his website as saying on Wednesday that “we will accept all help from abroad,’’ in the case of the team from Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders (MSF)), the health ministry doesn’t appear to agree.
MSF had sent a team of nine experts to Isfahan in central Iran to set up a 50-bed hospital in the province, which has been particularly hard hit by the outbreak.
The mission had reportedly been approved by both the foreign and the interior ministry, as well as by the Iranian embassy in Paris.
“It’s true, the mission was coordinated with all relevant authorities beforehand,’’ said government spokesman Ali Rabiei, according to the news agency Fars.
But after the project began late last week, the Iranian health ministry suddenly announced that it did not need a foreign hospital and that Iran could set up its own facilities with the help of the army.
MSF was surprised by the sudden withdrawal of the approval, said Michel Olivier Lacharite, who heads the organisation’s emergency programmes.
Lacharite confirmed that the mission had been coordinated with the Iranian authorities over the last few weeks and had begun late last week as planned.
The team had been warmly welcomed by the local health authorities, he added.
IRNA, Iran’s state news agency, ran an editorial on Tuesday stating that the health ministry’s sudden rejection of urgently needed foreign aid was surprising, as the numbers of infections and deaths in the country continue to rise.
According to the most recent figures published by the health ministry on Wednesday, more than 27,000 people have coronavirus in Iran. Some 2,000 people have died.
The MSF team is now waiting for the government to make a decision.
The organisation said it would also be willing to set up the clinic in another part of the country. If the mission isn’t approved, however, MSF will send its team and equipment to a different country.
Iran has also rejected offers of aid by the U.S., saying it is unwilling to accept help from “its worst enemy’’.
However, Tehran has asked the U.S. to suspend its sanctions on Iran, at least while the country is fighting the epidemic, and has called on other countries, and the UN, to support this request.
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