In the Central Hospital of Quesna, Egypt, last Thursday, a crime took place on film, the antihero of which was an Egyptian army officer and his family. His victims were defenceless nurses, one of whom lost her unborn baby after being kicked and hit by the officer, his sister and his mother using ropes as whips. The assaults took place because there was no doctor available in the emergency department — all were busy in the operating theatre — to treat a pregnant woman, apparently from the officer's family.
The reality of health workers in Egypt is that they face great suffering, including verbal and physical assaults, some of which have led to permanent disabilities. In the first half of 2022 alone there were at least 20 recorded assaults on health staff, according to data from the Egyptian Medical Association.
Moreover, Egypt suffers from an acute shortage of medical personnel, especially doctors, almost half of whom have migrated in search of better conditions, a larger salary and a health system that provides them with the required protection and training. Shortages in state-run hospitals have risen to around 65 per cent of staff. The Department for Work and Pensions in London estimates that the number of Egyptian doctors now working in Britain has increased by 202 per cent since 2017. Just over 11,500 doctors resigned from the state-run health sector in Egypt between January 2019 and March 2022.
The global average in healthcare is 23 doctors per 10,000 citizens; the average in Egypt is 8.6 doctors per 10,000 people. As such, the lack of any doctor in the reception and emergency department of the Central Hospital of Quesna was normal for Egypt and should not have provoked such a vicious attack on the nurses in Quesna.
This all suggests that there is an absence of any real vision and political will on the part of the regime led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to provide a health system of acceptable quality. Government spending on public healthcare has declined significantly under Sisi. Spending on military hospitals, meanwhile, has increased, with 22 new hospitals built over the past few years.
The regime's handling of the Quesna hospital incident so far does not bode well. The minister of health has made aggressive statements to assuage public anger, while claiming that what happened was an isolated incident. So did the official spokesman of the Egyptian Armed Forces, who urged everyone to slow down and not rush to judgement. The army, he added, is monitoring the situation.
This all serves to summarise the absurdity of life in Egypt under President Sisi. It's a country with a failed regime that has never cared about the health sector and has never developed government hospitals. A country wherein doctors do not have decent salaries or protection while doing their job, so half have emigrated. A country where a hospital director who doesn't protect his staff and an undersecretary at the ministry of health appear to be puppets appointed simply to protect the reputation of the regime and its thugs. A country where nurses get poor salaries, work under a lot of pressure and face abuse of all kinds from patients and their families. A country where ordinary people cannot afford private health care, and so depend on a failed health sector.
The public prosecution service has not issued any statement about the attack caught on camera; the military has not made any move against the officer involved; and the media has not accused anyone because the officer is in the Egyptian Armed Forces which basically run the country. Everyone, however, is putting pressure on the nurses and those who witnessed the attack to settle the matter quietly.
The army officer must be held accountable; the frightened hospital director must be held accountable; and the ministry undersecretary must be held accountable. Most of all, the minister of health in this failed regime must be held accountable, as should the failed president who does not care about the health sector in the country that he is supposed to be governing.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 4 December 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.