Doctors and pharmacists warn operating theatres will close as medics turn to "old drugs" to make up shortfall in vital supplies. The Guardian, 18 March 2013 - by Saeed Kamali Dehghan Operating theatres in Iran are running out of anaesthetics due to a shortage of medicine caused by the unintended consequences of international sanctions. Iranian doctors and pharmacists have warned that hospitals across the country are facing difficulties finding the drugs used during life-saving surgery. "Drugs such as Atracurium, Isoflurane and Sevoflurane are either not available in the market or are very scarce," said Kheirollah Gholami, a leading pharmacist from Tehran University of Medical Sciences. "If these drugs are not supplied, our operating theatres will have to close," he said, according to quotes carried by the semi-official Ilna news agency. "You can't just use a hammer to make patients become unconscious... If you don't have anaesthetics, patients in need of operations may simply die." Gholami's warning has been echoed by many of his colleagues and medical officials, including Mohammad-Mehdi Ghiyamat, who is the head of the Iranian society of anaesthesiology and critical care. "In the wake of [the Persian new year] Nowruz holidays, only patients in emergencies can be transferred to operating theatres and we don't know what to do with the others," Shafaonline, a medical news website, quoted Ghiyamat as saying. "Despite repeated warnings, the officials are yet to wake up and face the problem," he said. "It's the people and patients who pay the price for the difficulties." According to Ghiyamat, the shortage has forced hospital to resort to procuring "old drugs", which he suggested should raise concerns. It was not clear whether he was referring to expired medicine or merely older types of anaesthetics no longer in use. A combination of trade sanctions that limit Iran's access to global markets, banking restrictions, the plummeting value of the country's currency and government incompetence in allocating necessary funds are accused of contributing to the current crisis. There are conflicting views on whether the sanctions or government incompetence played a bigger role in the shortage of medicine, which potentially affects hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses at risk, especially patients suffering from haemophilia, multiple sclerosis and cancer. Many believe that sanctions are blanket restrictions and waivers considered to make sure humanitarian and medical goods can get through are not working. Others say the government of PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad has failed to find appropriate channels to overcome the problem. In his latest report on the situation of human rights in Iran, UN special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed expressed concerns about "the potentially negative humanitarian effect of general economic sanctions" and called on the countries behind the punitive measures to make sure that "humanitarian exemptions are effectively serving their intended purpose". Marietje Schaake, an MEP, called on the EU last month to reconsider sanctions so that Iran's ability to undertake life-saving operations is secured. "Crippling sanctions are only justifiable if they target the Iranian regime and not the civilian population," she wrote to the EU's high representative Catherine Ashton. "The EU should stand with the Iranian population, instead of making their lives even harder." Schaake said: "The restricted access to medicines is another undesirable side-effect of the US sanctions. The EU should consider the wellbeing of Iranian people because they will be instrumental in creating a freer and less threatening Iran."