Coronavirus Crisis: A Conversation Between Iranian and American Experts

On Thursday, August 13th, 2020, a remarkable conversation occurred among American and Iranian scientists and physicians with the goal of trying to better understand the coronavirus pandemic’s challenges and effects in both nations.  The University of Pennsylvania’s Middle East Center brought together Dr. Kamran Bagheri Lankarani, Iran’s former Minister of Health and Dr. Mohsen Moghaddami, both from Shiraz University of Medical Sciences; Dr. Hamid Soori, from Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences; Dr. Jonathan Moreno and Dr. Susan Weiss, from the University of Pennsylvania; and, Ms. Vira Ameli, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford.  This very important event is the latest result of the longstanding cooperation between the University of Pennsylvania and Shiraz University of Medical Sciences.

During the hour and a half long event, over 300 attendees from around the world listened in and also asked questions as participants addressed the recent history of global viruses, and then compared various governmental policies, the asymptomatic transmission, shifts inpatient care as the pandemic has spread, the effectiveness of mask use, progress in drug and vaccine trials, public health activities, health professionals’ deaths, length of immunity, and the need for advanced preparedness, among other topics.

The path of the coronavirus pandemic has challenged every aspect of life across the globe, especially among medical and scientific communities.  In Iran, doctors diagnosed the first case in December 2019.  Currently, 300,000 Iranians are infected, while 16,000 people have died.  Here in the United States, the diagnosis of the first case came one month later, in January 2020.  Since then, 5.6 million cases have emerged and 176,000 people have died here.  Listening in on this dialogue between Iranians and Americans provides the opportunity to more closely imagine the pandemic’s social, economic, political, medical, and cultural, even religious effects on every nation.  Panelists also considered how the long-standing diplomatic strain between the two nations and American sanctions on Iran have adversely affected the availability of medical equipment and mutual collaboration. 

Beyond the scientific and medical issues, the conversation also turned to the public crisis of information and both nations’ failure to control the spreading of inaccurate data about the pandemic.   

And, as one participant concluded, “we are at the end of the beginning...we have to keep talking” so that solidarity can actually develop between Iran and the United States and among all nations in order to end the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, there are many resources available for teaching and learning more about the pandemic as well as Iran and the Middle East in general.  A few of these include Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | Philadelphia Department of Public Health, A Global Pandemic, Free Resources to Teach Health in Grades K - 12, and K-12 Resources | Middle East Center, as well as John Ghazvinian’s Iran and America: A History, From 1720 to the Present (Knopf, forthcoming January 2021).  And, of course, just as Philadelphia is a World Heritage City with our World Heritage Site of Independence Hall, there are three Iranian World Heritage Cities (Bam, Tabriz, and Yazd) and several World Heritage Sites (https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/IR). 

Article written by Sarah Sharp on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association.