COVID-19 is now present in about 155 countries around the world. Governments are struggling to respond to the crisis, and the outlook for many developing countries is dire. On top of the challenges they already face at this time, continued economic sanctions give governments extra difficulties in responding proactively and adequately.
Iran is one of the worst hit countries with over 18,000 confirmed cases, yet the US government has not lifted its sanctions even temporarily. Doctors and health officials have raised the alarm on how sanctions are limiting Iran’s access to critical medical supplies. Those supplies are supposed to be exempt from sanctions, but in practice, banks are refusing to allow transactions with the Iranian government and most Iranian organizations. Past prosecution of companies that had sold small amounts of medical supplies to Iran has deterred other companies interested in doing business with the country. Not only have sanctions impacted the medical system, but there have been shortages of food staples and other needed items that help keep people healthy.
Venezuela once boasted a very strong health care system. With an economic downturn in 2015 and sanctions imposed beginning in 2017 on oil exports, the government’s revenue was slashed, and the health care system has crumbled. Vaccine-preventable diseases returned to Venezuela before this current global pandemic. Hospitals are short of electricity and water, never mind needed protective gear and medicine. At this point, there are only a handful of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Venezuela, but the threat remains as only 30% of hospitals have tests, which they’ve had to spend a lot more on than other countries.
North Korea was one of the first countries to respond to COVID-19 by enacting border closings and quarantine measures. The government has reported there are no cases in North Korea, but this is most likely inaccurate. Due to years of sanctions by the U.S. and other nations, most of the country is malnourished or undernourished making them more susceptible to diseases. North Korea also has a weak health system, which would be overwhelmed by an outbreak.
Broad economic sanctions have been shown over the years to mostly affect the wider population in a country, not the leadership or well-off. Especially in a global pandemic, sanctions should be lifted rather than increased. The Trump Administration has made no effort to lift or pause sanctions that are currently in place. The World Health Organization has committed to help all three countries through the pandemic, but we have a responsibility to help as well.
Statements related to lifting of sanctions related to COVID-19: