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Health minister fired by president.

President Ahmadi-nejad has fired Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, his health minister and sole female member of the cabinet.

Most of the scuttlebutt has said she was canned for having the temerity to criticize Ahmadinejad's government for not providing her with enough foreign exchange to import needed medicines and medical equipment.

But Dastjerdi, a gynecologist, never criticized Ahmadinejad. Instead, she has repeatedly denounced the Central Bank for not providing her with all the foreign exchange that the budget says she should have.

She first leveled those criticisms in November, but she was not fired until six weeks later, which suggested to some that Ahmadi-nejad was ordered to fire her.

Many conservatives never wanted Dastjerdi or any woman named to the cabinet. Ahmadinejad had to fight hard to get Dastjerdi approved in 2009.

Dastjerdi's outspokenness has also undermined one of the regime's latest rhetorical attacks on the West. Officials have been saying for months that the shortage of medicines is entirely due to Western sanctions and is an example of Western hatred for the Iranian people.

But Dastjerdi said flatly that sanctions had nothing whatsoever to do with the shortage. She said the whole problem was due to the Central Bank's withholding of foreign exchange. Specifically, she said that two-thirds of the way through the Persian year she had been allotted only one-third of $2.4 billion budgeted for imported medicines and medical technology. That would mean she was getting only half what she should have been getting each month since Now Ruz.

The initial announcement from Ahmadi-nejad's office did not mention Dastjerdi's name or say she was being fired. It simply announced the naming of an acting minister. That was an unheard of process, which showed that something odd was afoot. Only later did Ahmadi-nejad issue a letter acknowledging that Dastjerdi was out and praising her service to the country. Neither letter even hinted at a reason for her replacement.

The Mehr news agency insisted she was fired for an entirely different reason having nothing whatsoever to do with the medical shortage. It said Dastjerdi had been ordered by Ahmadi-nejad to fire the chancellor

of the Medical Sciences University, Dr. Baqer Larijani, a younger brother of Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and Judiciary Chairman Sadeq Larijani, both of whom the president has feuded with. Mehr said Dastjerdi refused to fire the chancellor and the president then fired her. That explanation had the advantage of totally side-stepping the embarrassing issue of the medical shortage.

Dastjerdi did not complain just once about the foreign exchange shortage. She spoke up repeatedly over the last six weeks. She was also quite bitter in her remarks. "I have heard that luxury cars have been imported with subsidized dollars, but I don't know what happened to the dollars that were supposed to be allocated for importing medicine," she said in one of her complaints.

She later complained that the Central Bank had allocated funds for the import of pet food, horse saddles and dog collars.

A former health minister and one of the daughters of former President Rafsanjani have both written letters to the United Nations complaining that sanctions were deadly for Iranians with serious ailments and promoting that propaganda line.

The government also reported a few weeks ago that a teenaged hemophiliac had died because ofthe Western sanctions, giving a face to the problem of the medical shortage.

News reports in Iran said 15-year-old Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi was admitted to a hospital in Dezful and bled to death because the hospital had run out of the drugs needed to treat him.

But The Times of London last week quoted "sources in Dezful" as saying the boy fell and cut himself while hiking in the mountains. The Times said it took almost two hours to get the youth to the hospital and, by that time, he had lost too much blood to be saved. That story must be taken with a grain of salt, however, as The Times has a reputation for taking stories invented by opposition groups.

The newspaper also quoted sources as saying that, after a 42-year-old woman in Karaj had died of a stroke, officials approached the family offering to pay all funeral expenses if a camera crew could film the burial. The women's sister was asked to record a video message to President Obama from graveside blaming him and sanctions for the woman's death. The Times said the family refused.

Shortly after Dastjerdi was fired, Deputy Health Minister Ahmad Sheybani spoke at a medical conference and flayed the Western countries. "They have blocked the path for us to import medicines and medical equipment through the most unfair and most unprecedented sanctions in history," he said.

No country sanctions medical sales to Iran. Even the US total sanctions exempts medicines, medical equipment, foodstuffs, other agricultural goods and informational materials ranging from books and newspapers to film and photos.

Some in Iran have acknowledged that and said the problem is the Western banking restrictions that mean Iran cannot pay for medical imports. But Dastjerdi at one point said the banking restrictions were not a serious problem at all.
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Jan 4, 2013
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