Egypt’s health ministry says it is working hard to protect health workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, adding it has designated a special 20-bed floor for infected staff in every quarantine hospital since the virus emerged in the country in February.
The ministry said in a statement Monday that the virus has infected 291 health workers, including 69 physicians, and killed 11 -- the first time it has provided a tally of cases among medical staff.
The figure is lower than the count provided by the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, which said early on Monday that over 350 doctors have contracted the virus and 19 have died.
There have been repeated calls on the ministry to allocate special hospitals for infected healthcare workers amid a surge in cases and reports of delayed response from authorities or lack of beds at isolation hospitals.
The ministry’s statement quoted Health Minister Hala Zayed as saying that health authorities were “working hard to protect medical staff facing the coronavirus” and has adopted all necessary precautions to do so, noting that all staff members undergo tests before entering and leaving hospitals.
"An immediate test is conducted for anyone showing symptoms while on duty. The ministry has intensified the [coronavirus] periodical tests carried out for medical staff, with 9,578 rapid tests and 8,913 PCR tests conducted so far," she said.
Infection control teams at hospitals review protective equipment stock daily and ensure medical teams comply with infection control protocols to reduce infections among medics, she added.
The ministry’s statement came one day after three doctors were confirmed to have died of the virus. The deaths have sparked outcry online, with doctors and families of the victims accusing the ministry of medical negligence.
Many hospital staff members have taken to social media to mourn the death of the three doctors.
One of the doctors was thirty-two-year-old obstetrician Waleed Yahia, who worked at Cairo's Al-Munirah Hospital and whose family says had not received the necessary healthcare before his death.
"Waleed's state was deteriorating every second…each second could’ve made a difference if he had received the healthcare he deserved," Yahia’s brother posted on Facebook late on Sunday.
The health minister has ordered an urgent investigation into the physician's death and vowed to take necessary legal measures in case of negligence.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian medical syndicate held the ministry "fully responsible" for the rise in coronavirus infections and deaths among medical staff which it said is the result of the ministry’s “inaction and negligence to protect them”.
The syndicate said in a statement early on Monday that the surge in cases is the result of the ministry’s refusal to conduct early tests to detect infections among hospital staff or for workers who came in contact with positive cases, and its failure to swiftly offer places for treating infected workers.
It urged all doctors to insist on their right to ensure that all protective measures are implemented before they start their work, including access to personal protective gear, receiving the necessary training to deal with coronavirus cases in triage or isolation hospitals, undergoing tests if they show symptoms or have come into contact with positive cases without taking the necessary protective measures, and access to necessary supplies and medicines.
The syndicate reiterated its demand for designating special isolation hospitals for medics infected with the highly contagious virus.
In a separate statement earlier on Monday, the health ministry said it has ordered health authorities to increase medical supplies at all hospitals to ensure the stock is sufficient to last for the long term.
The ministry said 320 general hospitals nationwide have started to offer testing to people showing symptoms of the virus, in a bid to make it easier for patients to receive healthcare services and take some burden off fever and chest hospitals, which have been receiving coronavirus patients since the outbreak hit the country in mid-February.