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The Right to Health in Egypt

“Every citizen has the right to health and to comprehensive healthcare which complies with quality standards. The State shall maintain and support public health facilities that provide health services to the people, and shall enhance their efficiency and their equitable geographical distribution,” states Article 18 of the Egyptian constitution. 

Egyptians have the right to receive comprehensive healthcare without discrimination according to the Egyptian constitution and according to numerous international treaties and charters. The United Nations General Assembly resolution adopted by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966 recognizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

This is proof of the right of people to health, as much as they have the right to food, housing, employment, and education. Human rights is a comprehensive notion and is not limited to a political aspect.

Egypt’s human rights file has witnessed tangible developments across its many sectors, prime among which is the healthcare sector, a topic of crucial importance to Egyptians and the political leadership.

As is the case in many countries, Egypt came face to face with difficult choices in its attempt to meet the increasing demands and expectations of its people. In the recent years, however, the country achieved tangible progress in the healthcare services offered across its governorates, be it through boosting the infrastructure of hospitals and healthcare units in villages or providing state-of-the-art equipment and developing the potential of manpower. 

In addition, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi launched numerous healthcare initiatives to upgrade healthcare services presented to people of all ages.

1- The comprehensive healthcare system

The new comprehensive healthcare system is the gateway to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly those that concern healthcare and Egypt’s Vision 2030. The political leadership and government have strongly supported this system that grants Egyptians comprehensive healthcare services, whether they can afford them or not.

The new comprehensive healthcare system is not only concerned with the health insurance sector. It extends healthcare services to every citizen, which helps achieve social solidarity in the community, in addition to restructuring household spending, 60 percent of which is directed to health.

The new system will be applied in six phases that cover all of Egypt’s governorates. 

2- The presidential initiative to terminate waiting lists

To alleviate the pressure on low-income Egyptians and conduct urgent surgical operations with the highest rate of success, President Al-Sisi kicked off the initiative to terminate waiting lists.

Through the initiative, 124,304 critical surgical operations were conducted thus far. The initiative was executed in two phases with a total cost of EGP 104 billion. The first phase was launched from 6 July to 31 December 2018, during which time 85,778 critical operations were performed. The second phase began on 1 January 2019 and will continue for three years.

3- The presidential initiative to terminate Hepatitis C and non-communicable diseases

After years of tireless efforts and with a strong political will, Egypt was able to control Hepatitis C and stop it from becoming an epidemic that threatens the world.

In October 2018, President Al-Sisi launched the 100 Million Health initiative to conduct medical check-ups on Egyptians and detect Hepatitis C and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity, with the aim of declaring Egypt Hepatitis C free in 2023.

Through the initiative, 57 million Egyptians were screened for diseases. Medical check-ups were also made available to refugees and asylum-seekers. About a million citizens have been given free medication since the onset of the initiative.

4- The Egyptian Women are Egypt’s Well-being initiative

This initiative is part of the 100 Million Health initiative, focusing on the detection of breast cancer. The initiative benefits about 28 million Egyptian women and aims, besides treating patients, at raising the awareness of women about the causes of breast cancer and ways to conduct self-examination for women above the age of 18.

The initiative was launched in nine governorates: Alexandria, Port Said, Beheira, Fayoum, Assiut, Qalioubiya, Matrouh, South Sinai, and Damietta.

5- The presidential initiative “Light of Life” to combat the causes of visual impairment and loss of vision in school pupils

The initiative, which began on 7 February 2019 and will continue for three and a half years, is aimed at the early detection of five million primary school pupils, in addition to two million citizens in need of urgent medical attention, providing one million eye-glasses, and performing 250,000 eye surgeries. The initiative works to reintegrate and empower the visually impaired, and raise awareness among citizens to make Egypt free of visual disabilities that can be avoided. The initiative received funding of EGP 1 billion from the Long Live Egypt Fund. The treatment is free of charge and the initiative will be implemented in four phases.

6- The Model Hospitals initiative

The National Project for Model Hospitals was launched across Egypt’s governorates simultaneously with the implementation of the National Project for Comprehensive Health Insurance, to provide better health services for those who cannot afford it. 

The initiative includes the preparation and operation of a model hospital in every governorate to make a breakthrough and tangible improvement in healthcare services, being in line with Egypt’s plan to achieve “health reform.” 

In the Model Hospital, patients receive medical services in every specialty, and they do not need to travel long distances to receive them. This contributes to the elimination of the problems patients traveling from villages and rural areas encounter when seeking treatment in Cairo.

7- The Presidential Initiative for the Early Detection of Obesity, Anemia and Stunting

The initiative was launched in early February 2019 in a collaboration between the ministries of health and education, for the early detection of obesity, anemia and stunting in primary school pupils. Some 12 million students were examined across Egypt’s governorates in public, private and Azharite schools. Patients were treated for free in 225 health insurance clinics.

8- The Presidential Initiative “Dignified Life”

The initiative included launching medical convoys to offer free medical services to the elderly, children, and people with special needs in remote locations and areas deprived of healthcare services in Egypt. Medical check-ups, treatments, tests, x-rays and ultrasound services were offered. Some 22.5 million patients were examined and treated for free.

9- The presidential initiative for the early detection of hearing loss in newborns

In September 2019 the presidential initiative for the early detection of hearing loss in newborns was launched by conducting a hearing gauge for infants aged one to 28 days, in order to quickly detect the chances of hearing loss, and facilitate the treatment procedures to prevent the loss of hearing. 

The initiative targets newborns, who number about 2.6 million children annually. The audiometry (which costs outside the framework of the initiative EGP 200) is free of charge in the 1,300 healthcare units scattered in Egypt’s governorates.

10- Medical manpower rehabilitation programs

The state’s focus on hospitals and health initiatives was not only a step to upgrade the healthcare system. The state is also working on improving manpower working in the system. 

The Ministry of Health launched the first training courses of the Unified Training Program to Rehabilitate Manpower, under the auspices of President Al-Sisi, to be an effective tool to implement the new comprehensive health insurance system. 

In parallel, other courses for medical and administrative staff in the governorates are taking place in tandem with the application of the new health insurance law, as well as training courses for the unified training program to qualify manpower to apply the law.

Recommendations to speed up the implementation of Egypt Vision 2030

The numerous programs and initiatives Egypt has launched are proof the state is working towards achieving its Egypt Vision 2030, particularly with its focus on the healthcare sector that guarantees Egyptians’ access to medical services within a comprehensive healthcare system without discrimination and with the highest quality and that is available across the country. This system is able to improve the health indicators by providing comprehensive protection and health coverage to citizens including those who are not able to afford treatment, thereby improving Egyptians’ health within a fair and just framework.

However, there are a number of recommendations that may help achieve this ambitious vision, such as depending to a larger extend on legislation instead of the initiatives launched by President Al-Sisi to be able to sustain the healthcare programs, in addition to widening the media’s role in promoting healthcare initiatives to increases their chances of reaching a larger audience, thereby making the initiatives more effective. Finally, it is imperative to locate other sources of funding to guarantee the sustainability of the healthcare initiatives and programs that range between making available and increasing the quality of medical services and improving the infrastructure of hospitals and healthcare units to sustain Egyptians’ right to health.

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This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Human Rights: The Trajectory to Combat Terrorism, Special edition, Cairo, November 2019.  

Alaa Nassar
Researcher at Public Policy Program

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