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Egypt doctors accuse government of mass negligence during coronavirus crisis build-up

Medical staff take a break from treating Covid-19 patients at Cairo's Imbaba Hospital [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 May, 2020

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The Egyptian Medical Syndicate has accused the government of negligence 'tantamount to death through a dereliction of duty' over lack of protection for doctors during the Covid-19 crisis.
Egypt's biggest medical union has accused the government of driving the health system towards collapse through widespread negligence, and resulting in a mounting death toll among doctors working on the frontlines treating Covid-19 patients.

At least 19 Egyptian doctors have died and around 350 are thought to be infected with coronavirus, according to the Egyptian Medical Syndicate (EMS).

According to official figures, there have been 783 deaths from Covid-19 among nearly 18,000 cases in Egypt.

In a scathing statement issued on Monday, the syndicate said it "holds the health ministry entirely responsible for the mounting deaths and infections among doctors due to its negligence... that is tantamount to death through a dereliction of duty".

The union warned of the "complete collapse" of the health system due to the ministry's failures during the pandemic.

"The syndicate is warning that the health system could completely collapse, leading to a catastrophe affecting the entire country if the health ministry's negligence and lack of action towards medical staff is not rectified," the statement added.

The syndicate, which represents thousands of doctors, called on the "executive, judicial and legislative" branches of government to force the health ministry to comply with its demands.

These included providing all doctors with personal protective equipment (PPE), training for dealing with coronavirus cases, and testing for those with symptoms or who have come into contact with infected people.

Egypt's hospitals have been hit by the flight of doctors abroad in recent years, while the frontline staff left behind face shortages of medical supplies and protective gear that heightens the risk of infection.

The EMS statement came after 32-year-old doctor Walid Yehia died on Saturday after being unable to secure a bed in an isolation hospital.

The country's 17 isolation hospitals reserved for novel coronavirus patients reached their maximum capacity at the start of the month, deputy health minister Ahmed al-Sobki told local press last week.

A colleague resigned in protest from the same Cairo hospital where Yehia worked. 

In a widely shared online post, the co-worker blamed the health ministry for not treating Yehia as soon as he showed symptoms of the virus.

Following the weekend's events, the Arabic-language hashtags #متضامن_مع_اطباء_مصر and #اضراب_الأطباء, calling for solidarity with Egyptian doctors and a doctors' strike respectively, began trending on Twitter.

In recent weeks Egypt has sent medical aid to countries - including China Italy and the US - angering many medical professionals who say there is a lack of PPE at home.

"The health ministry has an obligation towards doctors and all medics who are sacrificing their lives on the front lines to defend the safety of the homeland," the EMS said.

"It is imperative to provide them with the necessary protection and rapid medical intervention for those who contract the disease".

Egypt's authoritarian government has been brutal in its treatment of those who have criticised its response to the pandemic or questioned the official number of cases.

In March, The Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson was forced to leave the country after her credentials were revoked following a report that cited research suggesting Egypt's coronavirus infections could be higher than official numbers.

Ten journalists have been arrested since coronavirus was first detected in the country, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, who accused the regime of taking advantage of the pandemic to accelerate a long-running campaign against dissent.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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