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Iran

Health services and pharmaceuticals to Iran

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Trends and opportunities

The market

According to the Iranian Constitution, the government is required to provide every citizen of the country with access to social security that covers retirement, unemployment, old age, disability, accidents, calamities, health and medical treatment and care services. This is covered by public revenues and income derived from public contributions.


Today the largest healthcare delivery network is owned and run by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME) through its network of health establishments and medical schools in the country. MOHME is in charge of provision of healthcare services through its network, medical insurance, medical education, supervision and regulation of the healthcare system in the country, policymaking, production and distribution of pharmaceuticals, and research and development. Additionally, there are other parallel organisations such as Medical Services Insurance Organizations (MSIO) that have been established to act as a relief foundation as well as an insurance firm.


With a population of almost 70 million, Iran is one of the most populous countries in the Middle East. The country faces the common problem of other young demographic nations in the region, which is keeping pace with growth of an already huge demand for various public services.  Fifty per cent of Iran’s population are currently under 20 years old. Soon they will be old enough to start new families, which will boost the population growth rate and subsequently the need for public health infrastructures and services.


The total market value of Iran’s health and medical sector was almost US$240 billion in 2002 and is forecasted to rise to US$310 billion by 2007.

Health services

According to the last census that Statistical Centre of Iran undertook in 2003, Iran possesses 730 medical establishments (eg. hospitals, clinics) with a total of 110,797 beds, of which 488 (77,300 beds) are directly affiliated and run by the MOHME and 120 (11,301 beds) owned by the private sector and the rest belong to other organisations, such as the Social Security Organization of Iran (SSO).


Given the performance of the private sector hospitals and the demand for their services and the fact that state owned hospitals occupancy rates is 56 per cent, privatisation of some of the state hospitals seems a move in the right direction.


Iran has been very successful in training/educating the necessary human resources for its health system. The system of almost 30 years ago where the country was facing a shortage of all kinds of skilled personnel in the health and medical sector has been completely changed into one in which the necessary professionals now completely suffice the country’s needs.


Although overall improvements have been achieved in all health areas since the 1979 revolution, the present challenging economic conditions of the country, combined with rapid advances in medical technology, individuals’ expectations, and the young demographic of the population will undoubtedly challenge the sustainability of past improving trends. Moreover there is a considerable variation in the human development index and the human poverty index across different provinces in the country.


In 2004, in line with government plans for using IT, MOHME also adopted plans to employ IT for improving the efficiency of health service providers in delivering their services to the public. Implementation of these plans, including establishing a 'National Online Health Record Service', is in the early stages. However, once it gains some momentum, significant demand will emerge for IT solution in health and medical applications.


Overall, the Iranian health services are lagging behind compared to world-class standards and need serious reforms/improvements. These reforms will need huge financial resources. Additionally stakeholders, including SSO, MSIO and MOHME will have to comply with the requirements of such reforms, however, they might mean partially losing their control over this sector.

Pharmaceuticals

Iran has a rather developed pharmaceutical production capability, however, the country still relies on imports for raw materials and many specialised drugs.


Iran’s Ministry of Health has a mission to provide access to sufficient quantities of safe, effective and high quality medicines that are affordable for the entire population. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has adopted a full generic-based National Drug Policy (NDP), with local production of essential drugs and vaccines as one of the main goals.


Currently 55 pharmaceutical companies produce more than 96 per cent (quantitatively) of medicines on the market. Although over 85 per cent of the population use an insurance system to reimburse their drug expenses, the government heavily subsidises pharmaceutical production/importation in order to increase affordability of medicines. Despite significant government subsidies for pharmaceuticals, households spend about 19 per cent of their healthcare expenditures on pharmaceuticals. One major problem in this sector, according to the statistics, is over consumption/prescription of various drugs in Iran, especially antibiotics.


The regulatory environment of the country is rather strict on the import of drugs and pharmaceuticals towards companies that intend to enter into the market for the first time.


In the case of new unregistered companies, upon request of the importer, representatives of the MOHME will visit/inspect the manufacturing facility to evaluate its competency according to GMP. Once a company is registered it’s still subject to frequent inspections making sure it can sustain its competence.


In the case of the import of new medicine, if the drug is already in the Iran Pharmaceutical Index, the import is only subject to the approval of the Ministry’s accredited laboratories. Otherwise the importer of that medicine should first undertake the process of registering the drug into the list. This is subject to many requirements and can take up to one year.

Medical equipment

Iran is a mature market when it comes to medical equipment. Most of the major international players in this sector are present in the Iran market:

  • 3M
  • Ausculap
  • Boston Medical
  • Cordis
  • Guident
  • Hiticha
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Metronic
  • Ohmeda
  • Philips
  • Siemens
  • Smith & Nephew
  • Stryker
  • Varian
  • Zimmer

The Department of Medical Equipments in the Ministry of Health is responsible for supervising imports in this segment, but the import and distribution of such equipment is mostly handled by the private sector. There are over 100 Iranian companies representing the international suppliers in this market, handling both promotion and the after-sales service of the products. 

Opportunities

Some of the major opportunity areas for Australian companies within the Iran health and medical sector include:

  • Sophisticated medical/laboratory equipment
  • Active raw ingredients for pharmaceutical production
  • Pharmaceuticals for special diseases (eg. cancer, HIV, HBV, etc.)
  • Medical consumables
  • Biotechnological know-how/pharmaceutical products
  • IT solutions for health and medical sector
  • Health and medical educational services (please refer to Education and training to Iran)

Competitive environment

Iran has undergone the primary stages of development in terms of industrialisation and a rather strong indigenous manufacturing capability exists in the country. Therefore one can expect to find a handful of local producers for basic medical equipment, making it very hard to penetrate into the Iranian market for similar imported ones.

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Tariffs, regulations and customs

The import of all kinds of pharmaceuticals (ethical and off-the-shelf), medical equipments and even simple health products are subject to obtaining the permit of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME). Some of the issues applicants should be aware of are: 

  • Importers of these products need to provide MOHME with documents proving that they are the sole agent of the foreign principal. In the case of medical equipment, the importer of the product has to also be capable of providing the after-sales service.
  • In case of pharmaceuticals, the principal company and/or its products must be registered in one of these five countries: USA, UK, Germany, Switzerland or France before it will be considered for the import permit. If the country of origin is one of those listed, it will be considered as one of the five countries.
  • If the USA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) approves the medicine, a photocopy of the FDA approval or the centralised EMEA certificate will significantly ease the registration process. This is not a written rule, though.
  • The Drug Registration Committee reserves the right to take decisions regarding registration of a company and its products. No international certification automatically guarantees that the company or products will be approved for registration. The committee can delay or refuse approval for scientific or technical reasons.

Imports of both pharmaceuticals and medical equipment that are produced locally may encounter non-tariff barriers upon the political strength of the lobbying group supporting the related industry or company. Those health and medical products that receive the import permit are subject to import tariffs.


A General Guide on Iranian Customs/Tariff Information, including details of general import licenses requiring the approval of relevant Ministries (eg. Ministry of Health for pharmaceuticals) is available online for reference purposes. The Iranian importer is responsible for arranging the appropriate license approval.

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Marketing your products and services

Market entry

In general, the best market entry strategy in Iran is finding a competent local partner. An Iranian partner will better understand local business practices and will also have a ready network of contacts with the industry and more importantly Iranian Government regulatory authorities.


Traditionally, exhibitions are where Iranian importers hunt for new companies to represent. Medica (Dusseldorf) and Arabhealth (Dubai) are the international events that attract many Iranian importers while IranMed (Tehran), which is held every other year, is the most prominent local event in the Iranian health and medical sector.


However, visitors/exhibitors at such exhibitions should be cautious about Iranian companies that attempt to continually recruit new foreign products/technologies to their bulging portfolio of foreign companies they’re already representing without having the necessary dedication/plan for developing their business.


Some common marketing tools that companies in the heath and medical sector employ include:

  • Participating in local trade exhibitions
  • Holding professional seminars and workshops
  • Advertising in specialised magazines/journals
  • Personal sales
  • Targeted mail-out campaigns

Distribution channels

Established distribution channels only apply to medical consumables and pharmaceuticals. There are only a handful of distribution companies with facilities, which are countrywide.

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Links and industry contacts

Health services and pharmaceutical–related resources

Health and Biomedical Information Network - www.hbi.dmr.or.ir
Medical Associations Hosted at HBINET - www.hbi.ir/HOSTING/en-webhosting.htm#Medical%20associations
Ministry of Health and Medical Education - www.mohme.gov.ir
Iran Blood Transfusion Organisation - www.ibto.ir/epage.asp
Iranian Haemophilia Society - www.hemophilia.org.ir
Iranian Psychological Association - www.iranpa.org/english.htm
Iranian Red Crescent - www.rcs.ir/en/index.php
Iranian Society for Immunology and Allergy - www.hbi.ir/isia
Iranian Society of Atherosclerosis - www.iranathero.org
Iranian Society of Cardiac Surgeons - www.scsir.org
Iranian Society of Physiology and Pharmacology - www.irspp.hbi.ir
Iran’s MED & LAB Engineering Magazine - www.iranbmemag.com/e/home.asp
Islamic Republic of Iran Government - www.iran-embassy.org.uk/info/goverment.htm

Government, business and trade resources for Iran

AME Info - www.ameinfo.com
Food and Drug Department - www.fdo.ir/default_eng.asp
Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA) - www.salamiran.org/Economy/investment_law.html
Iran Fair - www.iranfair.com/english/default.htm
Islamic Republic of Iran (Customs) - www.irica.org/LHomeIE.htm
Statistical Centre of Iran - www.sci.or.ir

Media

Iran Mania  - www.iranmania.com
Iran World  - www.iranworld.com
Net Iran (clippings) - www.netiran.com/clippings.html
Pars Times - www.parstimes.com/news

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Contact details

The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) is the Federal Government agency that helps Australian companies win overseas business for their products and services by reducing the time, cost and risk involved in selecting, entering and developing international markets.

Austrade offers practical advice, market intelligence and ongoing support (including financial) to Australian businesses looking to develop international markets. Austrade also provides advice and guidance on overseas investment and joint venture opportunities, and helps put Australian businesses in contact with potential overseas investors.

A list of Austrade offices (in alphabetical order of country) is available.

More information

For further information please contact Austrade on 13 28 78 or email info@austrade.gov.au


(Last updated: 19 Jul 2007)

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