Medicines and treatment methods for fighting virus studied
By Sadeq Dehqan & Katayoon Dashti
Following finding symptoms of a new disease among patients who referred to Iranian Army’s medical centers in February 2020, the army became vigilant on its garrisons and units, said Brigadier General Dr. Behzad Moazzeni, chief of Army’s Ground Forces Health Office. “Therefore, we didn’t witness coronavirus outbreak in army centers.”
Moazzeni also said that the Army rushed to help people since official announcement of coronavirus outbreak in Iran.
It used all its medical and human force potentials and capacities in line with protecting people against the virus.
He expressed the hope the Army could gain good results given its research capacity and medical potentials in treatment methods and production of medicine and vaccine.
Iran Daily has interviewed him. Excerpts follow:
IRAN DAILY: Please elaborate on diagnosing and fighting COVID-19 disease in Army units.
MOAZZENI: Following finding suspicious symptoms in a patient who referred the Army’s medical center in February, we increased our vigilance to prevent an acute respiratory disease which was different from influenza. We had anticipated that the second phase of influenza would start in February, therefore we were in high level of vigilance and preparedness. But we noticed that some patients had different symptoms.
Therefore, we optimized our prevention and diagnosis guidelines and had strict supervision over garrisons. It was decided that when a patient with such symptoms refers, he/she should be sent to a specialist and separated from other patients.
It means that you had noticed COVID-19 disease. Did you report it to other sectors?
At that time, we couldn’t say that it was coronavirus, but it had different symptoms compared with other acute respiratory diseases. We understood that it might be a new disease. Our colleagues in preventive medicine units guessed that it was a mutated flu virus or an acute respiratory disease.
Therefore, our medical protocols were promoted. When the spread of COVID-19 disease in Iran with two deaths was officially announced in late February, we were 20 days ahead of the news. Our units that recruited soldiers in late February and early March, implemented new medical rules and protocols. They checked all soldiers and separated suspicious cases from others. As a result, we didn’t witness COVID-19 spread at garrisons.
What were medical and hygiene plans for Army units and military centers following the announcement of virus spread in the country?
The Army put on agenda disinfection of public transportation and venues immediately. The public prayers, gatherings and group classes were suspended. Screening scheme was implemented at garrisons since February 20, and social distancing plans were implemented as of February 22. Regarding two high-risk provinces of Gilan and Qom, special guidelines on movement restrictions were issued in these regions.
In addition, all Army units which were stationed at borders were screened by our medical teams. Later, Army’s Biodefense Headquarters was set up during February 20-26 to detect the epidemic on a daily basis and help National Headquarters for Managing and Fighting Coronavirus and other respected organizations. Also screening and disinfection stations were set up at entrance of cities. Out of army’s hospitals, 28 were allocated for COVID-19 patients across 24 provinces
What measures were taken regarding allocation of hospitals, medical and care centers to COVID-19 patients?
The first hospital that was allocated for acute respiratory patients was Khanevadeh Hospital in Tehran which was allocated for admitting and hospitalizing the Army patients and their families on February 20. Based on the need of Health Ministry, Hajar Hospital was allocated to Tehrani citizens on February 26. Afterwards, based on the need of National Headquarters for Managing and Fighting Coronavirus, five field hospitals were set up.
The first field hospital with 50 beds was established in Qom on March 3 and 500 beds were added on March 14. Three days later, the second medical care center and field hospital was established in Rasht, Gilan Province. Then, field hospitals were established in other cities such as Tabriz, Shiraz and Mashhad.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei warned that the outbreak might be the result of a “biological attack” against the Islamic Republic. Since there was some evidence that this incident might be a ‘biological attack’, this measure could be also some form of biological defense drills, which would add to national power and strength of the country. Therefore, Imam Reza (AS) Biodefense Headquarters was set up to conduct biological defense drills regarding the coronavirus.
The Army was ordered to launch a large medical care center in Tehran. We inaugurated a 2,000-bed unit equipped with intensive care facilities at Tehran International Permanent Fairground within 48 hours. This is a record in construction of a medical center within a short time which showed the power of Iranian Army’s Ground Forces. Health Ministry’s officials admitted that the 2,000-bed medical care center is one of the most standard units built for reining the coronavirus across the country.
What measures were taken for disinfecting the cities and producing the hygiene products required by people?
Disinfection maneuvers were launched across 24 provinces in 242 cities and 811 outpatient screening stations. Totally, 12,900 beds were set up, of which 2,000 were allocated to Tehran and 10,900 to 211 regions across the country. Also, we became active in producing protective gears and masks. Over 10,000 protective gears were produced by April 10.
Sewing units making military uniforms in 35 units were shifted to mask-producing ones. We produced over 600,000 masks by April 10 and continue the trend. In addition, we produce over 5,000 liters of hand and surface sanitizers every day which are distributed among people free of charge at voluntary stands.
Please explain about the research by army to produce vaccine and medication.
Currently, over 50 medical labs for detecting coronavirus are active across the country. In early days of the pandemic, only few labs operated in this regard, the third or fourth was lab of AJA University of Medical Sciences, the medical school of Islamic Republic of Iran Army. At present, AJA University of Medical Sciences is taking measures in producing COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and test kits.
Coronavirus diagnosis kits have been produced. Seventy coronavirus tests are done with our products at AJA University of Medical Sciences daily. However, mass production of test kits requires necessary permits.
Our colleagues are working on vaccine production but since COVID-19 is a new virus, it takes time. Currently it is in research phase. We are searching for new methods to treat COVID-19 disease. Plasma therapy has been put on agenda which is in test stage. Also using oxygen at high pressure for the treatment of COVID-19 patients is under study.
Do you think Iranian Army can be among first groups in finding a treatment for coronavirus and producing vaccine?
We are hopeful. Knowledge-based teams and specialists of AJA University of Medical Sciences are making round-the-clock efforts in this regard. But it also depends on cooperation of decision-making international organizations. Because based on WHO protocols, the process of producing medicines and vaccines should be approved by international organizations.