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Eighth death from medical negligence reported in Egypt's prisons

Overcrowded facilities could lead to a catastrophic outbreak of the virus [AFP via Getty]

Date of publication: 27 May, 2020

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An eighth person has died this month in Egypt's prisons of alleged medical negligence.
An eighth person has died this month in Egypt's prisons after being denied critically needed medical treatment, the Shehab Centre for Human Rights has said, amid fears that coronavirus could be spreading among prisoners.

Mohammed Khater Ghamry, 53, died inside the Belbeis Police Department on Tuesday, after alleged medical negligence. 

His death followed the passing of Rajab al-Najjar two weeks ago. 

Najjar suffered a high temperature before his passing and the Al-Shehab Center have warned of similar symptoms among his cellmates, amid fears of an outbreak of coronavirus in Egypt's prisons.

"This indicate a dangerous increase in deaths caused by medical negligence in Egyptian prisons in light of the spread of coronavirus," said the Al-Shehab Center.

"The epidemic is spreading inside the Egypt's prisons and detention centres without any measures to stop the spread,  makes the numbers of deaths of detainees in prison likely to increase."

In one case shared by the centre, a 47-year-old man died in the Fayoum Governorate's Police Department, after he suffered a diabetic coma and was left without treatment.

According to the organisation, medical neglect in prisons and detention centres in Egypt is increasing month upon month.

Egypt's President President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi pardoned thousands of prisoners on Saturday and last month, Egypt announced the release of nearly 4,000 detainees to mark Sinai Liberation Day

Some 778 prisoners had been pardoned and released while 233 had been conditionally released, the interior ministry said.

The president customarily pardons prisoners on Sinai Liberation Day, however, this year's amnesty included far more detainees than usual.

Although authorities made no mention of the coronavirus crisis, the scale of releases indicate they are responding to pressure to reduce overcrowding in detention facilities, which could lead to a catastrophic outbreak of the virus.

Individuals convicted of national security, terror or protest law violations - encompassing most of Egypt's estimated 60,000 political prisoners - have not been eligible for release.

Meanwhile, Egypt's biggest medical union has accused the government of driving the health system towards collapse and said negligence is 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.

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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