Iranian Hospital Chiefs Fired for Challenging Health Ministry’s COVID-19 Data

By Azadeh Karimi

Since April 10, Iran’s Minister of Health and Medical Sciences Saeed Namaki has reportedly fired the heads of two hospitals and two medical schools for criticizing the ministry’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and questioning the accuracy of its report on the time-line, extent, and scale of the epidemic.

The four doctors who have reportedly lost their jobs are Ghodrat Akhavan-Akbari, the president of Ardabil Medical Science University, in the northeastern province of Ardabil; Esmail Farzaneh, the administrator of Ardabil’s Imam Khomeini Hospital; Reza Pakdel, the administrator of Ardabil’s Valiasr Hospital in Meshkinshahr; and Hassan Adel, the deputy director of the education department at the Qom University of Medical Sciences and Health Services, in the holy city of Qom, 140 kilometers south of Tehran.

[aesop_image img=”” panorama=”off” credit=”KAYHAN LONDON ” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionsrc=”custom” caption=”From Right to Left: Esmail Farzaneh and Ghodrat Akhavan-Akbari. ” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

During a recent meeting of the local branch of the National Headquarters for Fighting the Coronavirus, Dr. Adel had reportedly criticized several Qom seminarians, who lacked medical credentials, for offering opinions on the spread of the coronavirus.

In an undated interview with the “Be Vaght-e Qom” (Qom’s Time) television program, Dr. Hassan Adel, said: “We suspect that several patients in the ICU ward of our hospital who died before Feb.19 had the coronavirus. We called for an investigation. We had diagnosed another patient with COVID-19 disease a week earlier. The person was not, however, tested as we had requested.”

“During the same period, between 10 to 15 other provinces reported similar cases. It was, however, Qom that requested and insisted on testing people, which was ultimately done,” Dr. Adel noted. “Other provinces reported similar cases. We administered tests and made the diagnosis. They would have also identified cases of coronavirus infections if they had ignored the Ministry of Health’s guidelines and administered the tests. As a result, the first confirmed case was in Qom. However, this did not mean that the infection started in Qom, only that the first diagnosed case was in Qom.”

“I believe the entire country is indebted to the doctors in Qom. They were the ones who investigated, diagnosed, and confirmed the cases. They sounded the alarm about the spread of the disease in the country,” Dr. Adel added.

In an interview with the local affiliate of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcast (IRIB) TV channel in late March, Dr. Esmail Farzaneh, the administrator of Ardabil’s Imam Khomeini Hospital, said: “The coronavirus has now spread. It has been on an upward trajectory for the past few days. The data includes those who have tested positive, which is a small part of the bigger picture. That is the reality of the situation.”

“We carried out 147 CT [computerized tomography] scans at Imam [Khomeini] Hospital yesterday, of which 47 were positive,” Dr. Farzaneh said. “The ministry has highlighted the cases that have tested positive. Are all of our patients tested? The answer is no. Do we treat all patients based on tests? The answer is again, no.”

“Many doctors do not administer tests any longer. They base their diagnosis on CT scans and whether the patient shows any symptoms such as fever or coughing. They make correct diagnoses in all cases of coronavirus infection. The reality of the situation is that our hospital is full,” Dr. Farzaneh explained. “All the ventilators are being used to help patients in critical conditions. We will run into trouble if more patients in critical conditions arrive at the hospital.”

“Our hospital is at the forefront of the fight. The situation can develop into a tragedy if we ignore the [stay-at-home] guideline and go out.” Dr. Farzaneh warned. “Imagine if we experience a massive surge in infection. We had some 290 new cases at our hospital in the last 24 hours. We have had 140 more cases since 8 AM today. The number of people hospitalized will also increase.”

On April 10, Mr. Namaki also removed Dr. Ghodrat Akhavan-Akbari as the president of the Ardabil Medical Science University after he reportedly cast doubt, during a TV interview, on the accuracy of the Health Ministry’s official report on the extent and scale of the epidemic in the country.

According to Dr. Akhavan-Akbari, the ministry’s figures were based solely on the number of people tested. He pointed out that the actual number, which also included bedside diagnosis and the results of CT scans, was far higher than the official figures.

Namaki has now appointed Shahram Habibzadeh as the acting president of Ardabil Medical Science University. Mr. Habibzadeh is an associate professor and a faculty member at the university.

The Health Ministry also removed Dr. Esmail Farzaneh and Dr. Reza Pakdel from their posts as the administrators of Ardabil’s Imam Khomeini Hospital and Ardabil’s Valiasr Hospital, respectively.

Some domestic sources have suggested that Dr. Farzaneh, who is respected by the Iranian medical community, resigned after the dismissal of Dr. Akhavan-Akbari.

According to unconfirmed reports, Dr. Akhavan-Akbari, another well-respected physician, contracted coronavirus in late March and has been in self-isolation at home ever since. Others have speculated that he was not sick at all and that the Health Ministry had unofficially and unceremoniously sidelined him.

This article was translated and adapted from Persian by Fardine Hamidi.

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