Monday, December 3, 2012

Despite Sanctions, Tehran Provides Treatment for Poisonous-Reptile Bites to Coalition Soldiers in Afghanistan

    Monday, December 03, 2012   No comments

Iran

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan—Relations between Iran and the U.S. are poisonous, with one exception: an antidote for snake bites.

In a surprising—and irony-rich—byproduct of the Afghan war, the Pentagon finds itself dependent on a scientific research arm of the Iranian government to treat bites by Oxus cobras, Haly's pit vipers and other snakes peculiar to the battlefields of southwest Asia.

Despite U.S.-led international sanctions designed to paralyze Iran's trade with the outside world, the Defense Department buys the drugs through a middleman, with orders totaling 115 vials at $310 apiece since January 2011.

Medical guidance issued by U.S. Central Command says drugs made by Iran's Razi Vaccine & Serum Research Institute "should be the first line of antivenin therapy" because they counter venoms of the most-common Afghan snakes, said a U.S. officer who has read it.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers Razi antivenin an experimental drug, and requires military doctors to file a report any time the antivenin is used. FDA-approved antivenins won't work on Afghan snake bites because they are manufactured from snake venom found in U.S. species, say military doctors.

For their part, the Iranians say they are willing to sell Razi drugs to anyone. "We make this to save lives, and it doesn't matter if the person is Iranian or Afghan or American," said Hadi Zareh, lead researcher in Razi's antivenin department. "We are happy to hear we have saved a person's life, even an American soldier."

Prompted by questions from The Wall Street Journal, Pentagon lawyers are investigating whether the purchases violate sanctions rules and require a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department. "We are working with the Department of Defense to confirm the details of these purchases to ensure compliance" with sanctions regulations, a Treasury spokesman said.

Mr. Zareh said the U.S.-led sanctions campaign, intended to discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, has had the side effect of making it harder for Razi to produce the very drugs the American military is purchasing. The institute, he said in an interview, is finding it "very difficult to buy chemical products for the laboratories and some of the equipment that we need. Prices have also increased because of sanctions."


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