TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iranian health authorities say lower imports and a heavy subsidy system which has spurred smuggling of drugs out of the country are to blame for a recent shortage of insulin pens.
A senior official from Iran’s Food and Drug Organization said on Sunday that demand for foreign-made insulin pens have increased in the country despite efforts underway to substantially increase the local production of the drug.
Haydar Muhammadi told the Tasnim news agency that supplies of imported insulin pens or those manufactured inside Iran have also ended up in the hands of traffickers who basically benefit from gaping differences in the prices of the drug in Iran and in neighboring countries.
"We have no shortage of insulin but there is a shortage of foreign-made insulin pens,” said Muhammadi, adding, "We have abundant supplies of regular and NPH (neutral protamine hagedorn) insulin and people can use them.”
The comments came a day after Iranian health minister supervised the launch of a major insulin production plant near Tehran.
The factory, owned and operated by Danish company Novo Nordisk, is set to reach a monthly output of 800,000 insulin pens.
Generic medicines are heavily subsidized in Iran and the government keeps spending billions of dollar each year on local production as well imports of various drugs.
Imported drugs that have locally produced versions should pay up to 60 percent in taxes but others enjoy government support and some key medicines are still imported at a government-mandated price of 42,000 for the rial against U.S. dollar,
far lower than a current market price of 310,000 for the greenback.
Authorities on Saturday denied reports that some 19 truckloads of smuggled medicines confiscated in neighboring Iraq had been manufactured in Iran, saying the supplies had transited through Iran to the Arab country.
Iran is facing a myriad of hurdles for supplies of drugs for special diseases because of U.S. sanctions.
The country is the Middle East’s hardest-hit country by the coronavirus, but the U.S. is using the pandemic as part of its maximum pressure to hurt Iran as much as possible.
On Saturday, Iran extended restrictions and closures in the capital Tehran into a third week on Saturday as its death toll rose above 30,000.
Schools, mosques, shops, restaurants and other public institutions in Tehran, where the infection rate has been highest, have been closed since Oct. 3, and Tehran province governor Anoushiravan Mohseni Bandpey announced an extension of the measures until at least Friday, state media reported.
Iran is experiencing its third surge of coronavirus infections and says its fight against the coronavirus has been hampered by U.S. sanctions, which have limited its crude oil sales and its access to foreign banks.
On Wednesday it reported record daily figures of 279 deaths and 4,830 new coronavirus infections. It has registered more than 250 deaths and 4,000 cases in each of the past six days.
The rial currency was trading at a new low of about 322,000 per dollar on Saturday on the unofficial market, according to the foreign exchange website Bonbast.com, hit by worries over new U.S. sanctions that may block some Iranian medicine purchases.
A requirement to wear face masks in public in the capital, imposed last Saturday, remains in effect, as does a ban on travel in and out of five cities including Tehran, which was announced on Wednesday.