Babylon & Beyond

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IRAN: Pill-popping through the revolution

November 14, 2007 | 12:56 pm

HydrocortisoneThe more Iran's clerics tried to change things in the country, the more they stayed the same.

A pharmacist friend gave me a short history of pharmaceutical drugs in the Islamic Republic of Iran and how it sheds light on the country's evolving revolution.

In the early years after the 1979 revolution, all drugs were generic, in part because multinational pharmaceutical companies cut their ties with Iran. But it was also because drab generic drugs fit in well with the revolutionary ethos of the time. Iran had thrown off the shackles of Western imperialism and was standing on its own feet, without the help of the U.S.  Its own pharmaceutical factories could meet the needs of most patients. Meanwhile, those who could afford it bought smuggled brand-name drugs on the black market.

In 1989, after the Iran-Iraq war ended and freewheeling Hashemi Rafsanjani became president, Iranian companies were allowed to label their drugs with colorful logos and brand names, such as A.S.A., Jalinous or Hakim.

Nowadays healthcare in Iran is a business estimated to be worth more than $300 billion annually and there are more than 50 pharmaceutical companies. Ideological considerations have fallen by the wayside, and almost all pharmacies sell dietary supplements which bears the words "Made in the U.S.A." They're second-tier American brands like 21st Century Health Care or Nature Bounty. They're labeled "genuine" by the Iranian Health Ministry in order assure conscientious consumers that the drugs are truly made in the U.S. or Canada.

— Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: An ad promotes an Iranian anti-arthritis drug. As the Iranian healthcare industry tops $300 billion a year, it looks more and more like the Western business it was designed to replace. Credit: