- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 15, 2013

TEHRAN — For the first time in more than a decade, the black market pharmaceutical peddlers are back on Nasser Khosrow Street near Tehran’s main bazaar.

“Medicine, medicine,” the street dealers shout. “Any kind you want.”

Business is brisk. For many Iranians, such underground channels are now the only way to get needed — or even life-saving — drugs as Western sanctions because of the country’s nuclear program have indirectly limited normal supplies to hospitals and pharmacies.

But for others, even the sidewalk touts are not an option. Iran’s sinking currency has more than doubled the prices of some of the imported medicines and supplies, potentially putting them out of reach for lower-income patients.

While medicine and humanitarian supplies are not blocked by the economic embargoes on Iran, the pressures are clearly evident in nearly every level of Iranian health care.

It’s a sign of the domino effect of sanctions on everyday life.

The pain of rising prices

Restrictions on Iran’s access to international banking networks mean major obstacles to pay for imported medicine and equipment — the same troubles facing many businesses in need of shipments from abroad.

Meanwhile, the nation’s slumping currency — seen as collateral damage from sanctions — has driven up prices sharply.

An imported wheelchair now costs 10 times more than last fall. A blood-sugar test kit has more than doubled to about $18.

The black market still finds ways to get medical supplies through smuggling routes or simply by carrying shipments by hand, but the prices can be even higher than on regular shelves.

“You pay in advance and I will bring the medicine you need later,” said Behzad, a street medicine dealer who would give only his first name. “We have all sorts of medicines: European, Indian or Chinese. It depends on your budget.”

The economic blows from sanctions are felt most acutely in key industries such as oil, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of Iran’s foreign revenue.

Last week, the head of Iran’s parliamentary budget committee, Gholam Reza Kateb, said receipts from oil and gas exports have fallen by 45 percent in the past nine months.

The announcement appeared part of political early warnings before expected austerity measures in March that likely will include major tax increases.

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