President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed Iran's only female cabinet member after she criticised her colleagues.

Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was sacked as health minister on Thursday after serving in government for three years as the first woman minister since the Islamic Republic was established in 1979.

Dastjerdi allegedly pulled rank on her co-workers for failing to provide funds to import vital medicines.

While seen as politically conservative, the gynecologist has been an active advocate promoting a greater role for women in society.

The news comes after reports of shortages of some critical medicines used for treating cancer, multiple sclerosis, blood disorders and other serious conditions.

In November, Dastjerdi said only a quarter of the $2.4bn funds allocated for medicine imports had been provided in the
current year. She also reiterated a shortage of foreign currency for the shipments.

In an interview on state television, she said: "Medicine is more essential than bread. I have heard that luxury cars have been imported with subsidized dollars but I don't know what happened to the dollars that were supposed to be allocated for importing medicine."

Iranian officials blame the shortages on sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, but the government has come under heavy criticism itself for failing to manage the needs of Iranians properly.

Source: Agencies