iranwire.com – We are halfway through the ninth month after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran and, according to official figures, over 37,000 Iranians have lost their lives to this virus. But, according to a number of health officials, we must at least double the health ministry’s figures to arrive at a more realistic number. In other words, the true death toll up to now is at least over 74,000 people.
The official coronavirus statistics have been disputed since the start of the pandemic. But until a month ago, no official conceded that these numbers do not reflect reality. Most of the public assumed that the health ministry’s figures were true and Health Minister Saeed Namaki’s refrain was that “we have the most reliable and accurate statistics.”
In recent weeks, however, one official after another has said that the health ministry’s number of cases and fatalities only include those who have tested positive.
Currently Iran performs somewhere between 30,000 to 35,000 tests per day. Of this number, approximately more than 8,000 return positive and, according to health officials, 30 to 40 percent are false negatives, meaning that these cases are actually people infected with coronavirus. This is a testing error because CT scans of the same individuals show something different than the standard tests. However, even with testing errors, we will find more cases if testing is expanded but, based on orders from senior Islamic Republic officials, testing is still limited.
“To improve screening both in quantity and in quality, it has been decided that the ministry of health will increase the number of tests by 10,000 per day to speed up the identification of cases,” said government’s spokesman Ali Rabiei on October 13. At the time only 25,000 coronavirus tests per day were conducted in Iran and, despite, Rabiei’s promise, the number of tests was not increased for days.
“When we have enough money for only 25,000 tests per day we do 25,000 tests per day,” said Mohammad Esmail Akbari, senior advisor to the health minister, on October 23. “Many countries that we say on TV are in a bad situation are in a better situation than us.”
Now, three weeks after Rabiei’s promise, we can see that the number of tests per day has reached around 35,000. This can be one of the reasons why the official number of cases and fatalities has risen.
On October 30, pointing out that the increase in testing has led to the identification of more coronavirus cases, Alireza Biglari, head of Iran’s Pasteur Institute, said that “following the president’s orders, the number of tests per day is approaching 40,000 and the goal is to increase this number to 100,000 per day in the very near future.”
Obviously, to arrive at more accurate statistics, more testing is needed. But the evidence shows that this is not going to happen in the medium term let alone in the “very near future”. On November 1, Dr. Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi, president of Iran’s Medical Council, announced that the current level of testing is not adequate for preventing the spread of the virus. “When we do not have enough tests, diagnosis is not done on time,” he said. “When we do not have enough tests, people carrying the disease are not identified, they mix with other people, they infect others and the rate of infections rises. Recently, we conducted around 25,000 tests per day in Iran and this number is to be increased to between 35,000 and 40,000 tests. But, as we have said, we need at least 85,000 tests per day in this country.”
For some time now, neighboring Turkey has conducted 130,000 tests for coronavirus test per day, pushing prevention ahead of treatment. Zafarghandi says the number of tests in Iran must reach 200,000 per day. However, it is unlikely that this goal will be reached anytime soon.
Zafarghandi pointed out that an important factor in identifying coronavirus cases and preventing the spread of the virus is the number of tests per each million of the population. In Iran, he said, it is 50,000 per million “whereas in Qatar or Bahrain it is 1.25 million per one million of the population, meaning that some individuals have been tested more than once.” He warned that if coronavirus tests are not increased we must expect a sudden overwhelming of medical centers by coronavirus patients.
Iran’s Latest Coronavirus Statistics
In her daily briefing for November 6, health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:
Dr. Lari also reported that all 31 Iranian provinces are in red, orange or yellow states of alert.