(Bloomberg) --

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants to tap the country’s sovereign wealth fund for $1 billion to support a healthcare system overstretched by a major coronavirus outbreak, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Rouhani wrote to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday requesting permission to withdraw the money from the National Development Fund, IRNA reported, quoting Rouhani’s comments at a coronavirus task force meeting in Tehran.

“We need this budget for hospital equipment and to finance the cost of health care and treatment,” Rouhani said.

The National Development Fund, founded in 2011 and derived mainly from oil income, hasn’t published any official figures for its size since the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018, decimating its oil exports and currency. In May 2016, the Mehr news agency reported the fund stood at $80 billion.

Iran is the epicenter of the virus in the Middle East, with almost 30,000 cases and 2,234 deaths so far. With its economy severely weakened by U.S. sanctions, it has already sought a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, its first request for assistance from the lender since the 1960s.

It has also urged Washington to suspend its sanctions while the virus is sweeping the country, a call the U.S. has rebuffed.

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