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Hospitals Scramble to Cope with Nursing Shortages as New Variant Threatens Iran

September 13, 2021
Pouyan Khoshhal
6 min read
Hospitals Scramble to Cope with Nursing Shortages as New Variant Threatens Iran

The National Coronavirus Taskforce reports that the fifth wave of coronavirus in Iran is now on the decline. Nevertheless, the official number of daily Covid-19 fatalities is still well above 500 and hospitals across the country remain at or near capacity. Another major problem faced by some hospitals is a shortage of nurses – so acute in some areas that one nurse is reportedly on hand for every 25 people.

Meanwhile, students are expected to be required to attend school in person when the new school year begins later this month. As a result, Samieh, a nurse in Golestan province, told IranWire: “The president of our hospital has ordered the children’s ward be equipped to prepare for the reopening of schools, and the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases among schoolchildren.”

“Similar steps have been taken in other hospitals as well,” she added. “Nurses now have more experience in dealing with Covid-19 and right now, are planning to take their holiday days in coordination which each other, so that they’ll have more energy if the sixth wave arrives in late October.”

So far, Islamic Republic officials have made contradictory statements about reopening of schools. “The necessary preparations for the reopening of scientific and educational centers and schools have been made, and they will come into effect in the near future,” President Ebrahim Raisi told a meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce on September 9. On the same day, interim Minister of Education Alireza Kazemi said schools would indeed reopen as planned on September 23.

But also on the same day, new Health Minister Dr. Bahram Einollahi announced: “There is no insistence that schools reopen on September 23.” With less than two weeks to go until the new term starts, parents are still in the dark.

Alireza Raisi, spokesman for the National Coronavirus Taskforce, also weighed in with his own thoughts on school reopenings on September 9. By the end of the month, he predicted, 30 to 40 percent of schools would be holding in-person classes again, with others resuming normal classes later on. In another interview, he said he expected all schools to have reopened in two months.

A New Coronavirus Variant Is Looming

The Lambda coronavirus variant, first detected in Peru, has reached Qatar and Turkey and now threatens Iran, reported Dr. Mohammad Kariminia, deputy director of Biological Defense Headquarters, on September 4.

“Right now we’re losing around 600 of our countrymen every day and if Lambda enters the country the situation could deteriorate badly,” he said. The health chief, also the deputy governor of Fars province, warned that Iran had perhaps a month at most to prepare itself for this variant’s arrival: “It is predicted that by October we’ll witness a sixth wave of coronavirus, called Lambda.”

Health Minister Bahram Einollahi, however, was more optimistic, saying he believed that mass vaccinations would keep the new variant at bay. It was previously estimated that Iran needs to inoculate 60 million of its almost 83 million-strong population to achieve an acceptable level of immunity against Covid-19, meaning around 120 million doses of vaccine need to be procured and distributed. According to official figures, however, as of now only just 32 million injections have been carried out and only a little over 11 million people have received both doses.

Dr. Einollahi had previously promised all vaccionations would be complete by February 2022. Asked this week if it was not already too late with the new variant on the way, he said: “In a vaccination process that lasts a whole year, the level of immunity in someone who was inoculated at the beginning of the year will not be the same at the end. Therefore, the vaccinations must be done quickly, within three months.”

Mostafa Ghanei, chairman of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee, also said 60 million Iranians needed to be fully vaccinated within three months. “There is no scientific basis for the claim there will be no more waves of coronavirus,” he said. “On the other hand, evidence shows that if we vaccinate people, they might get infected and fall ill, but they will not die or become gravely ill.”

These highly divergent statements between officials have left many with the impression the government has no idea what will happen when autumn arrives.

“We Don’t Believe Official Promises”

“Most nurses have now experienced five coronavirus infection peaks and have unconsciously reached their own conclusions,” says Samieh, who was assigned to her hospital’s Covid-19 ward earlier this year. “They’ve seen more patients than any official or president. They have sufficient understanding of how the virus behaves. We’ve heard so many promises about vaccines that we no longer pay attention to them. Myself and colleagues are preparing ourselves for a sixth wave.”

Ever since the pandemic started, Samieh complains, officials have given priority to political issues over public health and people’s medical needs. “Every time we believed them, we were duped,” she says. “During the fifth wave, despite all the problems which are still going on, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure because I had prepared myself. I’ll take care of children and adolescents who are sick with Covid-19, and I won’t pay attention to either the minister’s or the taskforce’s nonsense.”

Samieh says at her hospital and others in Golestan, there is now just one nurse on hand for 10 Covid-19 patients. “Some patients are lying in the corridors, suffering from a lack of oxygen.”

On September 7, Hamid Reza Azizi, vice president of the Iranian Nursing Organization, had said the chronic shortage of nurses was severely weakening the health system in other parts of the country. “It is reported than in a number of cities and province one nurse tends to 25 patients,” he said. “One certain wards in Tehran, 15 patients are under the care of one nurse. This is a tragedy.” He added that the main reasons behind the staff shortages were a failure to employ and train enough new nurses, as well as retirement and medical professionals leaving Iran. The official figures state 130 nurses have lost their lives to Covid-19 in Iran, which is likely to be far shy of the real total.

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 3,947 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending September 9. With 635 deaths, September 7 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.

 

Hospitals Scramble to Cope with Nursing Shortages as New Variant Threatens Iran

At the week’s end, 7,486 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected, both first and second shots, had reached 32,409,627.

 

Hospitals Scramble to Cope with Nursing Shortages as New Variant Threatens Iran

There are currently 246 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 144 are rated orange and 58 are yellow. No city in Iran is currently on “blue” alert.

 

Related Coverage:

Death Toll Worst Among Iran’s Middle-Aged Coronavirus Patients

Suicide Crisis As Nurses Face Unbearable Pressure and Staff Shortages

Iranian Covid-19 Vaccine Hubs Close as Shortages Bite

Number of Delta Variant Cases Continues to Rise Across Iran

Covid-19 Deaths Surge in Iran Amid Vaccine Delays and 40 Percent Hesitancy

Cash-for-Beds Rackets Exposed as Delta Variant Overwhelms Iranian Hospitals

Coronavirus: Delta Variant Infiltrates Iranian Heartlands

Saeed Namaki's Farewell Letter as Health Minister Delays Vaccine Delay Explanations

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