An eyewitness in the intensive care unit of the Covid-19 isolation centre in El Husseiniya, Sharqia governorate in Egypt confirmed that "everybody died" when ventilators ran out of oxygen. "No oxygen in intensive care! Are you kidding me?" I was asked on Twitter. I replied that this is the reality in Egypt, where Covid patients die because of oxygen shortages and not complications arising from the virus per se.
Three words sum up the situation: negligence, corruption and failure. The current regime led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi fails to provide even the bare minimum of equipment for medical teams treating Covid-19 patients. Minister of Health Hala Zayed demonstrates day by day that she can only obey Al-Sisi's instructions but fails to achieve any level of effectiveness in the face of the pandemic and the need to protect Egyptian citizens.
Those who are infected and placed on a ventilator in intensive care with life-threatening lung damage try to let those around them know that they cannot breathe. What are their last moments like? I feel suffocated now as I try to imagine the panic in their final moments.
A viral video taken inside that intensive care unit in El Husseiniya not only showed us patients dying after running out of oxygen, but also reflected the helplessness, defeat and agony of the medical teams in Egypt since the outbreak of the pandemic. Sitting on the floor in the corner of the ICU, a member of staff appears to be exhausted and distressed after failing to save any of the patients.
Generally speaking, such work is challenging at the best of times; during a pandemic, it is even more so. As a former doctor, I know very well how sad it feels when a patient dies because we were unable to save them; how deep the pain is; and how heavy the responsibility is to inform the family and friends that their loved one is dead. Medical staff bear this heavy burden, but the pain gets worse when they feel helpless and hindered by issues beyond their control that lead to someone's death.
Those ICU scenes will remain engraved in the memory of the nurse or doctor in the video for the rest of her life. She will probably need psychological support, yet who assigned her to work in a place with no equipment or effective resources to combat the pandemic?
The simple answer is that the Sisi regime has not listened to the doctors' demands to improve the health system, equip more intensive care units and provide more equipment. The regime took the initiative to send medical aid to Italy, China and Britain, but did not bother to assist the Egyptian doctors in their fight against the coronavirus. Instead, eight doctors were arrested because they complained about their poor work conditions.
If Al-Sisi and his regime allocated even a small part of the international loans they have been given to equip hospitals and provide medical teams with the necessary tools, then the oxygen would not have run out in Egypt's intensive care units. Normally, hospitals are equipped with medical gas supplies to provide continuity in the flow of oxygen to patients in intensive care units. A spare oxygen cylinder is supposed to be kept next to each bed inside ICUs to supply each patient with oxygen for ten minutes in case of an imbalance in the hospital's central supply system. However, it seems that none of these basic systems are in place in Egypt any more. The death of patients due to the lack of oxygen has been reported twice in less than 48 hours.
Meanwhile, Al-Sisi is building yet more presidential palaces; has spent nearly three billion Egyptian pounds on insurance for his presidential aircraft; hosted New Year's Eve celebrations with fireworks costing millions; and has borrowed billions of Egyptian pounds since the outbreak of the pandemic but no one knows where it has all gone. Just a fraction of this would ensure that patients are not running out of oxygen in intensive care units in Egypt's hospitals. That, though, now seems to be all too common in Egypt.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.