8:42pm , Sunday 24th January 2021

No Hospitals for the Poor: How 20,000 Beds Disappeared from Egyptian hospitals

6 January 2021

In mid-May, Basma Issam felt a high temperature and shortness of breath. Within two days, her family members complained of the same symptoms. At 24 years old, Basma lives in an apartment in a suburb east of Cairo with her mother, sister, husband, her nursing baby daughter and her grandmother.

Two days after the symptoms appeared, she went to a private hospital for a chest CT scan. “At that point it was confirmed that my family and I were positive for COVID-19,” Basma told the reporter.

By July 13, 2020, the number of recorded COVID-19 cases in Egypt had reached 82,000. Since the announcement of the first case in mid-February, 3,858 died from the virus.

After her diagnosis, Basma tried to find a place for her family in a quarantine hospital, but due to its overcrowdedness, had to resort to home quarantine. Basma’s family is not alone in being forced to home quarantine –– the ARIJ investigator documented 10 other families similar to Basma’s that were unable to secure beds in government hospitals.

Between 2005 and 2019, the number of government hospitals in Egypt decreased by 17.6%; from 1,167 beds to a mere 691. Conversely, the number of private sector hospitals increased from 652 to 1,157, marking 77.4% rise, as reported in the health bulletin issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics in 2019.

This investigation documents how the Egyptian government made a series of decisions that closed 476 government hospitals and ousted 60 infection hospitals –– what have been termed the “hospitals of the poor”. This happened at the end of the 1990s with the health reform plan, in which infection hospitals were transformed into mere departments of central hospitals.

This decrease has left thousands of Egyptians unable to access adequate health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Exacerbating the situation is the successive increase in the cost of treatment, and a rise in the poverty rate to 32.5%, as reported in the income and spending statement issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics for 2019.

Egypt bottoms the world’s healthcare index ranking, and ranked 84th out of 89 countries in terms of the level of healthcare provided to its citizens, according to 2019 data from CEOWORLD Healthcare Magazine.


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