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Thursday, 26 November 2020

Politicising Covid-19

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial , Wednesday 18 Nov 2020
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Although all have seen how effectively the Egyptian government has contained the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide in less than a year, some major news outlets in the West have decided to cover healthcare developments in Egypt through an adversarial lens. The media’s infusion of their political biases into this medical issue not only lends itself to a lack of balance and objectivity, it spreads misinformation and confusion which becomes doubly harmful at a time when Egypt has been making good progress in its economic recovery. 

According to the latest official figures, the Egyptian government has increased expenditure for the healthcare sector to LE 27.5 billion in the 2019-2020 financial year. World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have commended, on a number of occasions, Egypt’s excellent performance in handling the pandemic through its graduated approach to applying precautionary measures. Proof of the efficacy can be found in the fact that, unlike healthcare systems in other countries, the one that serves our country’s population of over 100 million has not been overwhelmed. Indeed, Egypt’s healthcare system has evolved and adapted rapidly, in pace with the developments of this major health crisis. 

The LE 27.5 billion that the government allocated to healthcare services in 2019-2020 stimulated an 18.2 per cent growth in this sector. Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Egyptian government has continued to implement its plans to overhaul healthcare infrastructure. In keeping with the government’s policy of ensuring the sustainability, comprehensiveness and equal access to quality healthcare, the Ministry of Health continues work towards its strategic aim, which is to achieve universal access to a nationwide health insurance coverage programme that offers a comprehensive package of high-quality health services. Last week, Minister of Health Hala Zayed announced that more than 80 per cent of the population of South Sinai has been enrolled in the new comprehensive health insurance system. The first stage of the countrywide enrolment process was launched in October last year. The health minister noted that South Sinai had the highest enrolment rate among the five governorates targeted in the first stage. The other governorates in this stage were Ismailia, Suez, Luxor and Aswan. More recently, the enrolment drive was launched in Port Said in July. 

However, the success of Egypt’s campaign to eradicate Hepatitis C offers perhaps a clearer example of the blinkers that some foreign media apply. This programme, which aimed to test more than 50 million people in what was basically the largest medical scanning operation in the world, had practically zero coverage abroad. Yet, it succeeded in curing 1,800,000 patients, an unprecedented accomplishment that won the praise of major international health organisations.

Of course, there remain many problems in our healthcare sector. Better care for physician and nursing teams has been a subject of discussion between the government and the Doctors’ Syndicate. The government has also been pushing for the establishment of more medical faculties in order to fill the gap in the numbers of healthcare providers per capita in Egypt. Training new medical staffs is all the more urgent in light of the tempting offers young Egyptian doctors have received from medical facilities in developed nations which are now struggling to cope with the ravages the pandemic has caused in their healthcare sectors. 

The Egyptian government has a clear vision for how to remedy problems in sectors that have been neglected for decades. Several years ago, it initiated a range of sweeping reforms inspired by the belief in the need to invest heavily in education and health. It is only natural for some problems to persist. However, to exploit them politically in an attempt to accuse the Egyptian government of taking advantage of the pandemic in order to “consolidate its authoritarian rule” is clearly an example of the types of hyperbole and disinformation such media practice resort to when covering Egypt. Or, at best, it is an exercise in wilful ignorance, a determination to remain blind to genuine reform efforts that reflect the extent to which the government kept the concerns and welfare of the people front and centre in its priorities.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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