Sunday, July 06, 2008

Babies' deaths hit Egypt's health care

Beware! Video footage on the Egyptian website is upsetting and disturbing! (Egyptian website)

by Alaa Shahine (Daily News)

CAIRO-Monday 7th July 2008

The video shows a poorly lit hospital nursery filled with premature babies in incubators. Doctors are frantically trying to resuscitate some babies while others wail in the background after a night-time power cut.

"God help us! Five are suffering from (cardiac) arrests?" a voice in the background says angrily. "We can handle one or two at most, but five?" "This is natural, doctor. It's been an hour and a half," says another male voice, apparently referring to the length of the power cut.

A mobile phone camera caught this scene at Cairo's state-run Al Matariya Educational Hospital in late May on a night when the electricity was cut for nearly three hours after midnight and back-up generators failed to work.

Doctors at the hospital said the outage led to the deaths of four infants. The health ministry, which has referred the matter to the public prosecutor for investigation, says two babies died but that was before, rather than during, the power cut.

The video, which surfaced on YouTube and several Egyptian blogs last month, has sparked a national uproar over a health care system suffering from a lack of funds, a long legacy of mismanagement and allegations of corruption.

For decades, the government has provided poor Egyptians with subsidised food and fuel, free education and health care.

But public spending on health care has fallen behind over the last six years, accounting for 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2006, compared with 2.4pc in 2001, data from the UN report on human development in Egypt showed.

Robust economic growth of around 7pc over the last two years has swollen the ranks of Egypt's wealthy, but left millions of unskilled, poorly educated people struggling to cope with inflation running at a 19-year high.

This widening gulf between the rich and poor in the Arab world's most populous country is also visible in the health care system.

Private hospitals offer superior care for those who can afford it - not much consolation to most in a country where one-fifth of 76 million people live on less than $1 a day.

A 2004 study by Christian Gericke of the Berlin University of Technology said poor Egyptians "pay relatively more (both out-of-pocket and through the tax system) and receive relatively less in benefits than the better-off social strata.

"There is a huge disparity in financial access to care," the study said.

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