Iran is the country hit the hardest by COVID-19 in the region, with the third-highest total of cases after China and Italy. 2,000 COVID-19 patients have died as a result of many factors hindering Iranian medical professionals’ efforts to curb the disease and its violent and rapid spread. 

One of those factors is the US-led economic - “terrorist-related” -  sanctions on Iran that block certain channels of trade on Iranian banks, and prevent the health sector from importing necessary medical equipment - like coronavirus testing kits - to help diagnose and treat the virus. These sanctions were implemented by the US government in May 2018, and new ones were just announced last week, blacklisting five companies based in the United Arab Emirates, three in mainland China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa for trade in Iran’s petrochemicals..

Global health and humanitarian organisations - including the United Nations - are thus taking to Twitter and to social media urging the US government to - temporarily - lift their sanctions in light of the pandemic’s impact on Iran. 

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for an urgent re-evaluation of the sanctions in a statement: “At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended... in a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” she said.

Bachelet added “humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be given broad and practical effect, with prompt, flexible authorisation for essential medical equipment and supplies.”

Other organisations are following suit, emphasising the ripple effect that the sanctions will have on the growth curve of the pandemic, which is already threatening the countries at Iran’s borders, including Pakistan and Iraq.

The National Iranian American Council, a non-profit organisation focusing on the rights of the Iranian-American community, also released a statement via Twitter - in collaboration with 25 other organisations - detailing their demands, which include a 120-day lift on the sanctions.

Iranian-American community organiser and writer Hoda Katebi explains in a tweet, sharing the hashtag #EndCovid19Sanctions which has gone viral in a matter of days: “I'm terrified. My aunt is a doctor in Iran. [Because] of sanctions there is a MASSIVE shortage of medical supplies, including face masks. She keeps giving her face mask to other docs [because] there aren't enough for everyone. For the love of GOD we need to end sanctions on Iran NOW.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar also joined the cacophony of voices, signing a circulating letter calling on US Congress members to demand the lifting of US-imposed sanctions. Scroll below for more of the tweets depicting the reality of life in Iran right now and how it is impacted by the sanctions.

Artwork in main image by Sahar Ghorishi.