Speaking to the government news agency on Monday the Head of Nursing Organization of Iran said scarcity of protective gear for doctors, nurses and aid workers in Iran's northern provinces is "worrying" while the death toll from coronavirus (COVID-19) among doctors and nurses reached 12.
"The shortage of protective gear against coronavirus such as masks, gloves, gowns and face shields is strongly felt in some healthcare facilities in the northern regions of the country," Mohammad Mirzabeigi told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and called on citizens to give priority to medical staff who are more in need of protective gear than others.
The Head of the Nursing Organization called on the Judiciary to take serious measures against profiteers who hoard much needed protective gear. On Saturday several Iranians and nationals of Tajikistan who allegedly hoarded masks, medical-grade alcohol and thermometers for export were put on trial.
On Sunday a lawmaker from Gilan Province, where 90 percent of hospital beds are taken up by coronavirus patients, said at least 30 people were dying in his densely populated coastal region every day, many of them without even being tested. He claimed that half of the medical staff of the province have now contracted the virus. "We can't even protect the lives of our health workers," Gholam-Ali Jafarzadeh- Imananabadi said, in an attempt to raise the alarm.
"Who is going to look after patients if nurses serving in hospitals fall ill?" he asked, echoing the serious concerns of the medical staff who a month after officials admitted there was an outbreak and the quick spread of the disease throughout the country are now completely exhausted by the weight of their work and the fear of contracting the highly contagious virus themselves.
The first among the Iranian medical staff to die of COVID-19 was a 25-year-old nurse from Lahijan in Gilan Province who passed away on February 23. Her test result, which was positive, arrived a week after her death.
So far twelve doctors and nurses have died of coronavirus, at least eight of them in the northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran which have now turned into hotspots of the outbreak. An even bigger number of those working in extremely overcrowded and understaffed hospitals have been infected.
In recent days videos of medical staff dancing in hospitals and promising to keep their spirits up and fight the COVID-19 outbreak have gone viral on social media but the truth of the matter is very different. Other posts by doctors and nurses on social media platforms tells a different story, of exhaustion, worries about the children they have not seen in days, and the fear the situation is only going to get worse.
In a coordinated move on Sunday the nurses of Amini Hospital of Langaroud, one of the cities of Gilan, posted calls for urgent help on their Instagram pages and said working without proper protective gear has reached a critical level.
Speaking to Radio Farda a source very closely involved with the Coronavirus Taskforce confirmed the gravity of the situation, even in the hospitals of the capital Tehran.
"The Health Ministry is trying to keep the medical staff going by offering some incentives. Those serving in high-risk situations are being compensated financially and in other ways but the exhaustion has set in, it's hard to say how long they can go on like this," he said.
"Many of the doctors and nurses have not been home in days. In some cases, they haven't even been able to go to rooms booked for them in five-star hotels nearby to take rest or to eat even though the food is free too. They sleep anywhere they can only to get up after a couple of hours and continue the hard work," he added.
The government has authorized medical sciences universities throughout the country to recruit nurses on a three-month basis until a decision is made about long-term employment of more medical staff but there are concerns about the level of the training that can be given to the new recruits to battle the disease.