MSF sends inflatable hospital and emergency team to Iran to help fight coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus: MSF intervenes in Iran

France 2020 © Brigitte Rossotti/MSF

Update: On March 24, Iranian authorities revoked approval for MSF's coronavirus treatment center. Read More

PARIS/TEHRAN/NEW YORK March 22, 2020—The international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), sent a 50-bed inflatable hospital and an emergency team of nine people to Isfahan, the second worst affected province in Iran, to increase hospital capacity for treating patients critically ill from coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19. 

The treatment unit was shipped by air from MSF’s logistics hub in Bordeaux, France, and will be set up in the compound of Amin Hospital in Isfahan. The unit is equipped to treat critically ill patients requiring constant strict medical supervision and care.

“Iran is by far the hardest hit country in the region, and Isfahan is the second worst affected province,” says Julie Reversé, MSF’s representative in Iran “We hope our assistance will relieve at least some of the pressure on the local health system. We heard the Iranian authorities’ calls for more support to help them cope with the outbreak and, as a medical organization already present in the country, we offered to help with what we believe can provide the most value: assisting with treating the most severe cases.”

An MSF emergency team comprised of nine emergency and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) medical doctors and logisticians will run the unit. The team will work with local medical staff and in close coordination with the Iranian health authorities.

The scale of the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran is concerning. According to official figures, as of March 21 there were 20,610 cases of coronavirus and 1,556 people had died from the disease—the sixth highest number of cases worldwide. On the same day, the number of infections in Isfahan province rose to 1,892.

MSF began working in Iran in 1991 and has responded to several emergencies since then. For example, in 2003 after the earthquake that struck Bam, and in 2019 when flooding hit several of the country’s provinces, which included Lorestan, Golestan, and Khuzestan.

Alongside the provision of emergency assistance, MSF continues to run routine activities for refugees and other vulnerable people in Tehran and Mashhad. MSF has been providing primary health care to vulnerable people excluded from healthcare in South Tehran since 2012 and Mashhad since 2018. This includes medical and midwife consultations, infectious diseases screening, hepatitis C treatment, and nursing and mental health care services. Although, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, some of these activities have had to be scaled back.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, MSF teams are currently supporting four hospitals in the most affected areas in the north of Italy. In France and Belgium, the organization is supporting efforts to detect and manage COVID-19 cases among vulnerable populations including homeless people, migrants, and unaccompanied minors. In Spain, MSF is collaborating with authorities to increase case management capacities.

In countries where MSF is already running medical programs, teams are reviewing activities to adapt to the current COVID-19 crisis and are coordinating with local health authorities to see how they could help in detection and management of COVID-19.

MSF is an international medical humanitarian organization running activities in over 70 countries. For its work in Iran, MSF does not receive funding from any government and relies solely on private donations.