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Healthcare in Iran

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Title: Healthcare in Iran  
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Subject: Politics of Iran, Iranian Tobacco Company, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, IDRO Group, Bushehr University of Medical Sciences
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Healthcare in Iran

Health care in Iran and medical sector's market value was almost US $24 billion in 2002 and was forecast to rise to US $31 billion by 2007.[1] With a population of 75 million (2012), Iran is one of the most populous countries in the Middle East. The country faces the common problem of other young demographic nations in the region, which is keeping pace with growth of an already huge demand for various public services. The young population will soon be old enough to start new families, which will boost the population growth rate and subsequently the need for public health infrastructures and services. Total healthcare spending is expected to rise from $24.3 billion in 2008, to $50 billion by 2013, reflecting the increasing demand on medical services.[2] Total health spending was equivalent to 4.2% of GDP in Iran in 2005.[3] 73% of all Iranians have health care coverage.[3]

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2000, Iran ranks 58 in health care and 93 in health-system performance.[4] The health status of Iranians has improved over the last two decades. Iran has been able to extend public health preventive services through the establishment of an extensive Primary Health Care Network.[5] As a result child and maternal mortality rates have fallen significantly, and life expectancy at birth has risen remarkably. Infant (IMR) and under-five (U5MR) mortality have decreased to 28.6 and 35.6 per 1,000 live births respectively in 2000, compared to an IMR of 122 per 1,000 and a U5MR of 191 per 1,000 in 1970.[6] Immunization of children is accessible to most of the urban and rural population.[3]

Health services

IRAN: Healthcare (Source: EIU)[3] 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Life expectancy, average (years) 70.0 70.3 70.6 70.9 71.1 71.4
Healthcare spending (% of GDP) 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.2 4.2
Healthcare spending ($ per head) 113 132 150 191 223 261


The constitution entitles Iranians to basic health care, and most receive subsidized prescription drugs and vaccination programs. An extensive network of public clinics offers basic care at low cost, and general and specialty hospitals operated by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME) provide higher levels of care. In most large cities, well-to-do persons use private clinics and hospitals that charge high fees.[3] About 73% of all Iranian workers have health care and social security coverage.[3] In 2000, 94% of the population could access local health services, according to the WHO. Access ranged from 86% in rural areas to 100% in urban areas.[3] Between 80% and 94% of the population could access affordable essential medicines in 1999.[3] Since 2009, a new government plan called "the comprehensive insurance plan" provides basic coverage to all Iranians.[7]


Iran has been very successful in training/educating the necessary human resources for its health system. The system of almost 30 years ago where the country was facing a shortage of all kinds of skilled personnel in the health and medical sector has been completely changed into one in which the necessary professionals now completely suffice the country’s needs. There are now 488 government funded hospitals in Iran. There were 0.5-1.1 physicians per 1000 population in 2004 according to various estimates (about 46 percent of physicians were women).[8]

Healthcare system in Iran (2011)[9]
Medical Schools 51
Medical Students 1 million
Professors of Medicine 20,000
Hospital Beds 120,000
Village Clinics 20,000
Doctors 100,000
Nurses 170,000

Health network

Today the largest healthcare delivery network is owned and run by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME) through its network of health establishments and medical schools in the country. MOHME is in charge of provision of healthcare services through its network, medical insurance, medical education, supervision and regulation of the healthcare system in the country, policymaking, production and distribution of pharmaceuticals, and research and development. Additionally, there are other parallel organisations such as Medical Services Insurance Organizations (MSIO) that have been established to act as a relief foundation as well as an insurance firm. Some hospitals, such as Mahak for children's cancer, are run by charitable foundations.

According to the last census that Statistical Centre of Iran undertook in 2003, Iran possesses 730 medical establishments (e.g. hospitals, clinics) with a total of 110,797 beds, of which 488 (77,300 beds) are directly affiliated and run by the MOHME and 120 (11,301 beds) owned by the private sector and the rest belong to other organisations, such as the Social Security Organization of Iran (SSO). There were about seven nurses and 17 hospital beds per 10,000 population.[3]

An elaborate system of health network has been established which has ensured provision of Primary Health Care (PHC) to the vast majority of public. However, access and availability of health care continues to be somewhat limited in lesser developed provinces where the health indices are also lower as compared to national averages. The country is in an epidemiologic transition and faces double burden of the diseases. New emerging threats should also be considered. The demographic and epidemiological transition underway will have a significant effect on the pattern of morbidity and mortality in the near and distance future, especially as it affects the emergence of chronic non-communicable diseases and the health problems of an aging population.


Although overall improvements have been achieved in all health areas since the 1979 revolution, the present challenging economic conditions of the country, combined with rapid advances in medical technology and information technology, individuals’ expectations, and the young demographic of the population will undoubtedly challenge the sustainability of past improving trends. In this regard, Iran is implementing a reform that places preventive medicine, the family doctor and the patient's electronic medical history at the center of Iran's health care system.[10] Moreover there is a considerable variation in the human development index and the human poverty index across different provinces in the country. Iran is the 19th country in medical research and is set to become the 10th within 10 years (2012).[11]

Health tourism

Iran is also among the 12 countries with biological medicines technology and can serve as a health tourism center.[12] 30,000 people come to Iran each year to receive medical treatment (2012).[13]

Water and sanitation

Iran has one of the highest percentages of population in the Middle East with access to safe drinking water, with an esimated 92% of its people enjoying such access (nearly 100% in urban areas and about 80% in rural areas as of 2007).[14][15]

There is a considerable shortfall in wastewater treatment; for example, in Tehran the majority of the population has no wastewater treatment, with raw sewage being injected directly into the groundwater.[16] As the water crisis deepens with an expanding population, this pollution of groundwater causes increasing health risks.


Serious attention to the nutritional status of Iranian people has been made since Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Iran (INFSI) was established by Dr. Habibollah Hedayat in 1961. Despite the fact that Iran consists of an agrarian economy , there is a high degree of malnutrition within the country. Approximately one fourth of all young children have stunted or wasted growth characteristics due to undernourishment;[17] moreover, as an indicator of the poor food distribution capability, the percentage of undernourished children in villages is much higher.

As an additional measure of public health and inefficient food distribution, about thirteen percent of the young people are classified as obese, according to the same United Nations FAO sources. According to the government of Iran, about 60 percent of Iranians are overweight and 35 percent of women and 15 percent of men suffer from obesity in Iran.[18]

The Codex Commission of Food Stuff, established in 2002 is in charge of setting and developing standards and quality and health regulations, related to the production of and trade in raw agricultural products and food stuffs, in accordance with the different global standards.

The soft drinks industry is valued at about $2 billion a year. Today, Iran produces about 3 billion litres of different types of soft drinks to address consumption of 46 litres per capita, and exports more than 12% of its production. Increased awareness with regards to the damages of carbonated drinks and sugar, and high levels of diabetes has created a move towards healthier products.[19][undue weight? ]

Communicable diseases & addictions

Immunization of children is accessible to most of the urban and rural population.[3]


Cholera has been a persistent problem in Iran. In the 2005 epidemic which involved loss of lives, state television warned people not to eat vegetables or buy ice blocks on the streets.[20] Salads were also banned in some restaurants. The 1998 epidemic involved considerably more cases and loss of life.


Increased drug use has driven up the incidence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In 2005 two-thirds of the official total of 9,800 HIV cases were attributed to drug use. Iran has established a national HIV treatment system, including 150 testing sites and a free needle exchange program.[21]

According to the United Nations, AIDS has been increasing in Iran at a rapid rate.[22] The major factor fuelling the epidemic until now has been injecting drug use, while there is an increase in sexual transmission of the disease. An estimated 14% of people who inject drugs countrywide were living with HIV in 2007.[23] In 2009, men account for 93 percent of the HIV patients, and women comprise 7 percent of the infected population.[24]

The rate of the epidemic in Iran is however still very low compared to international standards. Iran has a low prevalence of HIV infections with a rate of about 0.16 percent of the adult population (18,000 cases, officially) compared with 0.8 percent in North America (2008).[25] But according to the WHO, as of the end of 2009, there are more than 100,000 AIDS sufferers in Iran (approximately 0.135% of the Iranian population).[26]

Illegal drugs

Drug addiction constitutes a major health problem. Iran is situated along one of the main trafficking routes for cannabis, heroin, opium and morphine produced in Afghanistan, and designer drugs have also found their way into the local market in recent years. Iran ranks first worldwide in the prevalence of opiate addiction with 2.8% of its population addicted.[27] Initiation age for most Iranian addicts is their 20s.[28] Hundreds of drug production laboratories have been set up in Pakistan and Afghanistan.[29] Drug production in Afghanistan has multiplied by 40 times the previous output since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001.[30] Iran's police said in April 2009 that 7,700 tonnes of opium was produced in Afghanistan in 2008, of which 3000 tonnes entered Iran, adding that the force had managed to seize 1000 tonnes of the smuggled opium.[31] Iran spent over 600 million dollars in just the last two years to dig canals, build barriers and install barbed wire to seal off the country’s crime-infested borders.[32]

Iran discovers 3 tons of drugs daily.[33][34] In 2005, estimates of the number of drug addicts ranged from 2 to 4 million (1.2 million according to the Government).[35] Reasons for addiction include lack of economic prospects among the youth and lack of freedom.


Iran has implemented a strict smoking ban in all public places (2007). According to the new law, smoking is prohibited in all public organizations, hotels, restaurants, tea houses and coffee shops. Also forbidden is the offering and smoking of ghalyun, the traditional Persian waterpipe, which is a must in Iranian tea houses. A smoking ban for all car drivers nationwide was implemented since March 2006, and although offenders could face fines, the ban was widely ignored by the drivers. Also selling tobacco products to anyone under 18 would result in confiscation of the vendor's tobacco products and a cash fine. Repeated violations would lead to high cash fines.

About 20% of adult male and 4.5% of adult female population in the country smoke tobacco (12 million smokers according to some estimates).[36][37] 60,000 Iranians die directly or indirectly due to smoking every year (2008).[38] Smoking is responsible for 25% of death in the country.[37] Approx. 54bn-60bn cigarettes are believed to be consumed annually in Iran.[39] Around 2.7bn cigarettes are smuggled into Iran annually, according to officials from the state-owned Iranian Tobacco Company (ITC), on top of another 26.7bn which are imported legally (2008).[40] Imports of cigarettes, tobacco, cigars, cigarette paper, cigarette tips are subject to government monopoly.[41] Iranians spend more than $1.8 billion a year on tobacco.[39] According to a 2010-law, smokers henceforth will not be appointed to senior government jobs.[39]

Air pollution

The prevalence of respiratory diseases and cancers in Iran is increasing at a significant rate, also because of air pollution in Tehran.[2] It is estimated that 5 million Iranian children suffer from asthma.[42] The World Bank estimates losses inflicted on Iran’s economy as a result of deaths caused by air pollution at $640 million, which is equal to 5.1 trillion rials or 0.57 percent of GDP.[43]

Alcohol consumption

Prohibited in Iran because of the Islamic law, except for non-Muslims who can legally consume alcoholic beverages in private. Alcohol smuggling into Iran was estimated at nearly $1 billion in 2010.[44][45] More than 200,000 people in Iran are estimated to be involved in bootlegging. Many rely on what's made in people's basements or gardens in unsanitary conditions.[46]

Family planning

The Islamic Republic of Iran has a comprehensive and effective program of family planning. While Iran's population grew at a rate of more than 3% per year between 1956 and 1986, the growth rate began to decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s after the government initiated a major population control program. By 2007 the growth rate had declined to 0.7 percent per year, with a birth rate of 17 per 1,000 persons and a death rate of 6 per 1,000.[47] Reports by the UN show birth control policies in Iran to be effective with the country topping the list of greatest fertility decreases. UN's Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs says that between 1975 and 1980, the total fertility number was 6.5. The projected level for Iran's 2005 to 2010 birth rate is fewer than two.[48][49] As at 2012, more than half of Iran's population is under 35 years old. Authorities are now slashing its birth-control programs in an attempt to avoid an aging demographic similar to many Western countries that are struggling to keep up with state medical and social security costs.[49]

Leading causes of mortality

In the early 2000s the main natural causes of death have been cardiovascular disease and cancer.

According to Ministry of Health and Medical Education, in 2003, 41% of total deaths were due to diseases of the circulatory system. Myocardial infarction as the cause of 25% of deaths was the leading cause of mortality among the population.[50]

Addiction is the fourth major cause of death in Iran following road accidents, heart disease and depression.[51]

From 2001 to 2010, over 438,000 Iranians have died from "unnatural deaths" such as electric shocks, gas poisoning, and drug intoxication.[52]


The pharmaceutical industry in Iran began in its modern form in 1920 when the Pasteur Institute was founded. Iran has a well-developed pharmaceutical production capability, however, the country still relies on imports for raw materials and many specialized drugs. The standards regarding pharmaceutical products in Iran are determined and modified by the Pharmacopeia Council.

Iran’s Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME) has a mission to provide access to sufficient quantities of safe, effective and high quality medicines that are affordable for the entire population. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has adopted a full generic-based National Drug Policy (NDP), with local production of essential drugs and vaccines as one of the main goals.[53]

Although over 85 percent of the population use an insurance system to reimburse their drug expenses, the government heavily subsidizes pharmaceutical production/importation in order to increase affordability of medicines, which tends also to increase overconsumption, overprescription and misuse of drugs, much like the abuse of pharmaceutical opioids in Iran such as the heavily prescribed codeine for moderate to severe pain. The regulatory environment of the country is rather strict on the import of drugs and pharmaceuticals towards companies that intend to enter into the market for the first time. The Ministry of Health and Medical Education is the main stakeholder of pharmaceutical affairs in the country.


In 2006, 55 pharmaceutical companies in Iran produce more than 96 percent (quantitatively) of medicines on the market, worth $1.2 billion annually.[54] Iran’s pharmaceutical market is estimated to be worth $1.87 billion (2008), $2.31 billion (2009), $3.26 billion (2011), $3,57 billion (2013) and $3.65bn by 2013 (projected).[2][55][56][57]

The drug market in Iran is heavily in favour of generic medicines, which contributed US$1.23bn to the total in 2009, with patented drugs at US$817mn and OTC medicines at US$262mn.[56]

The market share of local production (value-wise) has declined from 85.2% to 63.4% over the past 8 (Iranian) years (2009). In this period the value of importation has jumped from 14.8% to 36.6%.[58] The government imposes 90% tariff on the import of drugs. In 2009, 1.8 million units of pharmaceutical products worth $1.2 billion were imported into Iran.[59]


Iran has produced a wide range of pharmaceuticals drugs for the treatment of cancer, diabetes, infection and depression.[60]

The Islamic Republic of Iran is the first country in the East Mediterranean region which has the technical and scientific capability to export vaccines to various world countries.[61][62] Iran will gain self-sufficiency in vaccine production by 2014.[63]

The new drugs launched in Iran for the treatment of MS include an interferon beta-1b by CinnaGen.[64] Gamma Immunex (recombinant interferon beta 1), Pegaferon (recombinant pegylated interferon (PEG-IFN)) and regenerative human factor VIII are among other recombinant-based medication made in Iran.[65] Iranian researchers are going to produce eight new recombinant drugs by March 2011.[65] Iran mass-produces MS drug Ziferon.[66] A generic version of fingolimod by Novartis has been launched as well as a biosimilar version of EMD Serono′s Rebif.[67]

Iranian researchers have developed 41 types of anti-cancer medications, overcoming the need for importing pricey cancer drugs from abroad (2011).[68][69][70] 12 countries in the world produce bio-tech drugs; Iran is one of them.[71] There are also 24 additional biosimilar drugs which Iran plans to bring into production by end of 2012.[72] Iran plans to become self-sufficient in biotech medicines production within 4 years.[73]


In recent years several drugmakers are gradually developing the ability to innovate, away from generic drugs production itself.[56] Depending on sources between 2,000 and 7,500 plant species are grown in Iran; only 100-300 of which are being used in pharmaceutical industries.[74][75] Iran has 80 percent of the world medicinal herbs. Due to lack of required technology, they are exported raw and in limited quantities to foreign markets.[75]

Pharmaceutical companies

There are 92 companies in Iran that are active in the pharmaceutical industry.[59] The Social Security Investment Co. (SSIC), Iran's largest holding company, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Welfare, presently owns and controls 22 pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and possesses a 40% share of total pharmaceutical production in Iran.[76]

The leading pharmaceuticals company is Darou Pakhsh, which is majority-owned by the Social Security Organization. The company manufactures, distributes, imports and exports finished products and pharmaceutical raw materials. Darou Pakhsh has an annual turnover of US$400m and claims to have the largest research and development operation of any Iranian drug firm. The company formed a plasmapheresis joint venture with a German medical firm, Biotest AG, in early 2004.[3] As of 2010, 50% of raw materials and chemicals used in the drug manufacturing sector are imported.[77]

Iranian pharmaceutical manufacturers are disadvantaged by the government′s poor intellectual property protection regime and because of lack of foreign direct investment.[2]

Top 10 local manufacturers[78]

Top 5 import agencies[79]

Medical equipment

The Department of Medical Equipments in the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME) is responsible for supervising imports in this segment, but the import and distribution of such equipment is mostly handled by the private sector. Iran has undergone the primary stages of development in terms of industrialisation and a rather strong indigenous manufacturing capability exists in the country. Therefore one can expect to find a handful of local producers for basic medical equipment, making it very hard to penetrate into the Iranian market for similar imported ones.

Iran MED and Iran LAB are the main annual exhibitions relating to medical and laboratory equipment in Tehran.[80] In 2009, approximately $3.1 billion worth of drugs and medical products were consumed in Iran. This shows an 80% increase from 3 years ago.[59] Iran’s per capita consumption is $21, as opposed to the global average of $94 because Iran subsidizes heavily its medical and pharmaceutical industry.[59] In 2009, Iran exported $74 million worth of "medical products" to countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Russia.[59]

U.S. sanctions against Iran do not apply to medical equipment or pharmaceuticals. There are over 100 Iranian companies representing the international suppliers in this market, handling both promotion and the after-sales service of the products. Iran is a mature market when it comes to medical equipment. Most of the major international players in this sector are present in the Iran market:

See also

Iran portal
Health and fitness portal


External links

  • Ministry of Health and Medical Education - Iran
  • World Health Organization - Iran (statistics)
    • WHO/ Country Office - Iran
      • WHO/Country Profile - Iran
  • Health services and pharmaceuticals to Iran - Australian Trade
  • Statistical center of Iran
  • Iran Pharma (Regulation & market information, including list of top drug molecules and products)
  • Iranian pharmaceutical directory
  • United Nations World Drug Report 2010 and Iran
  • Iran-United States cooperation in primary health care
Specialized reports
  • Iran Pharma Brief study (2008)
  • Iran Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare Report (70-page report)
  • Iranian Pharma (2010) (251-page report)
  • Soft Gel Market in Iran: a Comprehensive Report
  • PressTV Documentary)
  • PressTV report on organ transplantation in Iran
  • PressTV report on stem cell research in Iran
  • PressTV)
  • Iran's Bio-implant Productions (PressTV 2010)
  • Hospitals in Iran (PressTV)
  • Iranian food industry (PressTV 2011)
  • Family doctor in Iran (PressTV 2012)
  • Impact of US sanctions on Iran's medical imports (PressTV 2012)
  • Iran's Nuclear medicine and agriculture (PressTV 2012)
  • Iran's first stem cell database bank (PressTV 2012)
  • Iran's new biopharmaceuticals (PressTV 2012)
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