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Cairo attack highlights dire state of health care in Egypt

Image of a hospital in Cairo, Egypt [Alx R/Wikipedia]
Hospital in Cairo, Egypt [Alx R/Wikipedia]

A terror attack on the Cairo institute for cancer on Sunday that killed 20 has shone a spotlight on the treatment of cancer patients in the country.

According to a report by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed the institute was always overcrowded, with huge queues of people on the pavement outside waiting to be admitted due to strict restrictions on the number of cases accepted by the hospital each day.

Over demand for its services is largely to do with government spending on the health care sector, which has fallen from 5.4 per cent of total 2014-15 budget expenditures to 4.7 per cent in the 2019-2020 budget.

The Egyptian constitution stipulates that every citizen is entitled to healthcare  and that no less than three per cent of the GDP should be committed to healthcare, however, only 1.2 per cent of the GDP was spent on health in the 2019-2020 budget, down from 1.8 per cent in 2014-2015.

Ministry-run hospitals face severe staff shortages as salaries are far below what is offered in the private hospitals. Doctors have complained about working long hours and unsafe conditions.

Between January and August 2018, 593 doctors resigned from government hospitals, significantly higher than previous years, which is concerning given the most vulnerable sector of society will not be able to pay for private healthcare.

Read: UAE Crown Prince first to donate $3m to Cairo cancer institute

Official statistics say the poverty rate in the country has hit 32.5 per cent but critics believe the figure to be much higher.

In 2014 the World Health Organisation said Egypt had 2.2 healthcare employees per 1,000 citizens when it should have 3.4 per 1,000.

Pharmaceutical firms in Egypt have to pay twice as much to import drugs or active ingredients since the currency plunged after authorities floated the pound in November 2016 as part of the terms of a $12 billion IMF loan.

This has led to a rise in the price of drugs and low availability of cancer treatments in government hospitals and public pharmacies.

At this time doctors complained stocks were rapidly depleting and patients were being turned away from hospitals, however the government has blamed the problem on citizens being greedy and hoarding drugs.

Cancer is on the rise in Egypt. The National Oncology Committee at the Ministry of Health has revealed that cancer rates are set to triple by 2050 with about 166 out of every 100,000 people in Egypt with cancer compared to 45 out of 100,000 people globally.

Experts say preservatives in food, processed meat, the use of pesticides and toxic fumes from cars are the main cause of this.

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