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Egypt under pressure from medics to reform COVID-19 response

April 7, 2020 at 10:44 am

Egyptian municipality workers disinfect the Giza pyramids as protective a measure against the spread of the coronavirus on 20 March 2020 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images]

The Egyptian government is under continued pressure from the medical community to reform its COVID-19 response after a series of blunders by the authorities.

A letter smuggled out of an Egyptian prison on Sunday by medical staff detained by the regime outlines their offer to work in hospitals for the duration of the pandemic as the country reels from shortages after years of poor working conditions and low salaries led a wave of qualified professionals to emigrate.

Last week the Batel campaign called for the release of over 1,000 imprisoned medical workers to help confront the spread of coronavirus and published a list of 100 doctors who have been arrested.

Their calls were echoed by the UN human rights chief who called for political prisoners to be released in anticipation of an outbreak in the cells, which would be catastrophic given the overcrowded, unhygienic conditions prisoners are kept in.

READ: Egypt delivers medical aid to Italy despite severe shortages at home

Doctors have taken to social media to express concern over the lack of protective clothing and masks available to them in hospital but have been threatened with dismissal if they refuse to work without protective clothing, or if they complain.

There was an outcry as Egypt sent medical aid to Italy for the second time in a month despite its own shortages at home.

Last week Egypt’s medical syndicate called on the Health Ministry to provide medical staff with protective equipment, to sterilise the hospitals and to test the staff after receiving hundreds of complaints from doctors.

It was reported that the first Egyptian doctor to die from coronavirus, Ahmed El-Lawah, was not provided with a ventilator as his condition deteriorated, whilst staff at the National Cancer Institute, where at least 17 medics have tested positive, were told that if they were absent over COVID-19 concerns they would be replaced.

The institute has finally closed its doors after rebutting staff requests to shut one week ealier.

READ: Opposition group to support ending coronavirus crisis in Egypt

Egypt faces another wave of emigration after the US embassy in Cairo received over 1,600 applications from health workers for American visas in just 48 hours after the US Foreign Department posted an open call asking medics abroad to apply.

Doctors, pharmacists and dentists all applied after a Facebook post encouraged “medical professionals seeking work in the US on a work or exchange visitor visa particularly those working on COVID-19 issues to contact the nearest US Embassy Consulate for a visa appointment.”

Egypt now has 1,322 official recorded cases, 85 deaths and 259 reported recoveries, though researchers estimate the figures of infected cases to be far higher.