A dent in the trust of medical care in Egypt

Sent On: 
Wed, 2021-03-17
Newsletter Number: 

On March 9, Sara, one of our refugee students passed away. She was only 18 years old. Sara had since May 2020 an infection on her left hand that would not heal. In October she joined our learning center and did not complain about her hand which was kept in a bandage. But the bandage was not removed. I started asking questions and learned that she and her family had done everything they could to find medical care. On November 18 she wrote me the following WhatsApp message “I have gone to a lot of hospitals but nothing is happening. They just keep sending me to other different hospitals and give me medicals that I have got no use of it and now hopefully something good will happen.” I found this shocking and asked her to visit the clinic of Refuge Egypt in Zamalek, Cairo. Here too they could not help her. On December 14 she wrote that a doctor had told her that she had “leishmaniasis and that doesn't have treatments in Egypt I guess so but I don't know what I could do any more and today I have gone to another doctor for skin but no use too he said they don't do treatments like my problem and if I disturb you with my problems am so sorry.”  When one looks up Leishmaniasis on the internet it is clear that this is a neglected tropical disease that is caused by infection with Leishmania parasites, which are spread by the bite of phlebotomine sand flies. There are different types of Leishmaniasis and many are not deadly. Thus, could Sara’s life have been saved? No one knows but the lack of medical support was shocking to me. Was this because medical doctors and hospitals looked at a refugee and thus someone not able to pay a lot? Or was it that they genuinely did not know? I do not know. I shared my shock with Learning Council member Mustafa el-Sayed [Muṣṭafā al-Sayyid] who responded that in his view “the health system in Egypt is gradually collapsing! Even those who have lots of money cannot get the medical care required!”



Prof. Maḥmūd Khayyāl

A day earlier our friend Dr. Mahmoud Khayyal [Maḥmūd Khayyāl] passed away. He was to celebrate on March 16 his 80th birthday. He went to the hospital without covid-19 and contracted in the hospital covid-19. None of the few family members who visited him had covid-19 and thus they strongly suspect he contracted this in the hospital. Dr. Maḥmūd was a pharmacologist who had become the dean of the faculty of medicine at the Azhar University. The name Azhar is associated with conservative Islam but Maḥmūd was the opposite. He had come to doubt anything that is religious but would never ridicule anyone holding a religious belief. He was part of the group of Farag Foda [Faraj Fūda] who was assassinated on June 9, 1992, for his fierce opposition to Islamic fundamentalist thought. Like Faraj Fūda also Maḥmūd Khayyāl opposed fundamentalist thought and questioned how anyone could believe something with absolute certainty. I came to know Maḥmūd Khayyāl through the discussion meetings with Egyptian thinkers at his home. They discussed both religion and politics, mostly in Arabic. Maḥmūd Khayyāl had a very large network of friends, including Gamal al-Banna [Jamāl al-Bannā], Dr. Rifa’at Sa’id [Rifʿat al-Saʿīd] and Dr. Sayyed al-Qimni [Sayyid al-Qimnī]. It was characteristic of Maḥmūd Khayyāl to offer lots of alcoholic drinks during each of these meetings. People were free not to drink but Maḥmūd believed it was his freedom and that of others to drink. Jamāl al-Bannā was a believing Muslim and would not touch a drop of alcohol which was fine with Maḥmūd Khayyāl. In 2013 I met with a Salafi thinker and asked Maḥmūd Khayyāl if he would be willing to engage in a discussion with him. Maḥmūd Khayyāl agreed but insisted to have that meeting at his house where he would serve alcohol. The Salafi thinker agreed to the discussion but refused to go to a place where alcohol would be served. Thus, this meeting never took place. This is typical for much of Egyptian society. In other societies it is not different. People discuss topics in their own circles but rarely have open discussions with people outside their own circles. Maḥmūd Khayyāl knew his Islamic heritage well but had moved far away from conservative Islam and thus one would mostly see Egyptian liberals attending his meetings. In the past few years Maḥmūd Khayyāl had become weaker and these meetings were no longer organized.


I have frequently taken my student interns to Maḥmūd Khayyāl. They would pose questions and present their positions and Maḥmūd Khayyāl would question their premises. He made them think. Students loved this. Several of our students have interviewed him and these texts were placed, after Maḥmūd Khayyāl had approved them, in Arab-West Report.


Egyptian hospitals are full of patients with covid-19. Some hospitals charge 10.000 EgP or more per day for treatment. That is extremely expensive. This confirms the view that hospitals have become money making operations where only people with money may be able to obtain health care. And if this turns to be insufficient Egyptians with money and double nationality travel abroad. This leaves the poor and weak sadly very vulnerable.



March 17, 2021


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report