EGYPT: Insecurity adds to troubled health sector’s woes

As doctors and nurses in the state-run Ahmed Maher Hospital rush to treat the wounded after clashes between protesters and the security forces in Tahrir Square, they worry that they too could become the victims of Egypt’s rising violence.

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Among the people milling around the emergency department as an ambulance siren announces the arrival of more casualties could well be armed thugs, out to rob the staff, patients or to settle old feuds, Egypt’s health workers have come to learn.

“This is getting really serious,” Mahmud Ameen, a first-aid specialist at the hospital, told IRIN. “I go to the hospital to save people’s lives, not to risk my own life.”

Ten months after a popular uprising ended the 31-year regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, hospitals and staff are facing an unprecedented crisis.

“Attacks against hospitals have never stopped since Egypt’s security system crumbled in the wake of the revolution,” said Ahmed Hussein, a senior member of Egypt’s independent Medical Association. “Doctors just feel that the hospitals are intentionally neglected by the government.”

The government has stopped counting the number of attacks, but according to media reports, they happen almost daily. To signal his desperation over the insecurity, Health Minister Amr Helmy on 15 November sued the Interior Minister for failing to protect health centres [ (Arabic) ].


State-run Um Masryeen Hospital closed its emergency unit this week after armed men, stealing medical equipment and drugs, stabbed a nurse who got in their way. “How in God’s name can doctors work under these conditions?” asked Sobhi Zahran, a doctor.

The insecurity is not just a Cairo phenomenon. Earlier this month, staff at the Red Crescent Hospital in Sohag, in southern Egypt, reported an attack by angry relatives of a patient who had passed away. In June, gun-wielding men broke into the Al Arish Hospital in Sinai and kidnapped a patient who was undergoing surgery, and in May armed men killed a patient in the intensive care unit in a hospital in Minya, southern Egypt.

“The list of attacks can go on and on for ever, showing the need for real action here,” said Nabil Al Garhy, chairman of the Medical Association in Minya. “Doctors are being kidnapped, patients are being killed, and hospitals are being vandalized. How long will the government continue to passively watch?”

Egypt’s doctors already work under difficult conditions, ranging from drug and equipment shortages to low wages.

Cardiologist Rashwan Shaaban said that to buy a pair of new shoes, he had to save his full salary for at least three months. “The conditions of this country’s doctors are deplorable,” he told IRIN. “My salary does not exceed 2,000 pounds [US$335], although I have been doing this job for 20 years now.”

Earlier this year vital medicines were in short supply.



Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]