Oct 022012


Egyptian hospitals on strike: “The Muslim Brotherhood wants to maintain a stranglehold on healthcare”

Medical students protesting in solidarity with hospital staff in Cairo. Photo posted on the movement’s Facebook page.
On Monday morning, more than 500 public hospitals in Egypt began an unlimited national strike. The staff is calling for, among other things, a tripling of the budget allocated to the public health sector. But in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood has developed its own parallel healthcare system, the Islamist government does not seem to be willing to prioritize the public health sector’s development.
The striking workers are demanding an increase in health spending from five percent to 15 percent of the total national budget; better working conditions; the establishment of a pay scale; and the establishment of a minimum salary of about 400 euros a month. Some practitioners are currently being paid between 10 and 20 euros per month.
Emergency services and university hospital centres should not be affected by the strikes.
In the past few days, several political personalities and non-profit organisations have voiced their support for the strikers, among them the Secretary General of the Arab Medical Union and former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.
Public health sector unions have previously organised two strikes in May and in September 2011, but the workers’ demands were not met.

This sign lists the strikers’ demands. It hangs in front of the Abassiya pschiatric hospital in Cairo. Photo posted on the movement’s Facebook page.

“Personally, I’m reduced to prescribing medication developed in the 1960s”

Mohammed Shafiq, 30, is a neuropsychiatrist at the Manshiet el-Bakry public hospital in Cairo. He presides over the hospital’s independent union.

Before the revolution, we were working in miserable conditions, and today, nothing has changed. In my field, for example, we’ve got 1,000 neurosurgeons for a population of more than 80 million people. And half of them are not available because they are practising outside of Egypt, mostly in Europe and in the United States. This lack of personnel is a problem throughout public hospitals, not just in the psychiatry wards. The other big issue all doctors face is the lack of equipment. The antipsychotic medications that I need to treat my patients are nowhere to be found, unless you pay a lot of money, so there are certain psychiatric cases that can only be treated in private clinics who can afford them. The large majority of Egyptians don’t have the means to go to those clinics. Personally, I am reduced to prescribing medicines that were developed in the 1960s, even though more effective products have since been released. And then there’s a lack of basic supplies, such as oxygen masks, for example. Finally, we have noticed a great rise in violence at the hospital. Patients are increasingly venting their anger at doctors. With better funding, this problem would disappear.
“The Muslim Brotherhood’s social services network has a strong hold on the population”
Today, the public healthcare sector is almost non-existent in Egypt. When a patient is sick, he basically has the choice between a private clinic – if he has the means – or the vast network of medical services established by the Muslim Brotherhood over the years [Editor’s note: since the 1930s, the Islamic organization the Muslim Brotherhood has developed numerous charitable organizations, including hospitals, in areas neglected by the authorities. Today many Egyptians prefer it to Egypt’s public health service]. This network has the right to exist, but this is not what Egypt needs. We need a health system that is solid and universal, not one based on charity work. Moreover, although these medical centers are considered to be inexpensive, they are still more expensive than public hospitals.
I think the government [which came out of the Muslim Brotherhood movement] is not interested in developing a strong public sector because the Muslim Brotherhood’s social services network has such a strong hold on the population. It’s an unprecedented way to keep in direct contact with Egyptians. Also, this network receives money that can then be reinvested into other activities, notably the political arm of the movement. This explains why the union that is close to the Muslim Brotherhood is not supporting the strike.
“It doesn’t matter where the authorities go to find the money – nothing is more important than health”
I earn 100 dollars a month [about 77 euros; the average wage in Egypt is 100 euros]. We are calling for a minimum salary to be set at 500 dollars a month [388 euros]. This pay rise must be paired with an increase in the part of the national budget allocated to health, because without decent equipment and premises, we are useless. It doesn’t matter where the authorities go to find the money – nothing is more important than health.
Medical students protesting in solidarity with hospital staff in Cairo. Photo posted on the movement’s Facebook page. 

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