SOS 57357: Egypt’s biggest children’s cancer hospital plagued by finance crisis

Zeinab El-Gundy , Monday 26 Dec 2022

Egypt’s biggest children's cancer hospital 57357 -- which mainly relies on donations -- is fighting for survival as the country braces up to face the consequences of another possible devaluation of the Egyptian pound and fights to reduce the impact of the global economic crisis.


During a visit to the renowned hospital, Minister of Social Solidarity Nivine Qabbaj announced on Saturday that a protocol has been signed to support the Children’s Cancer hospital with EGP 75 million. In providing the money, the social solidarity ministry will rely on both the resources of social protection at the ministry and on Nasser Social Bank.

This is the first move by the government to help the hospital. The hospital had issued a statement on Friday detailing its current austerity measures to overcome the crisis it is currently facing. These measures include, among other things, reducing the number of new patients being admitted to the hospital.

The number of new patients admitted to the hospital has been steadily decreasing. In 2021, the hospital received 2,819 new patients compared to 3,356 in 2020. Until December 2022, it received 2,034 cases – a 24 percent decrease in the number of patients compared to 2021.

The hospital decided to transfer the patients older than 23 to other institutions specialised in treating adults. There are currently 1,398 adult patients – older than 23 – who pay for their treatment at the hospital. But the hospital’s administration has decided to dedicate the hospital’s resources to treating children up to 18 years old.  

There are currently 18 thousand children being treated at the hospital.

It has also reduced the follow-up period following recovery from 10 years to 5. The hospital already has 11,000 patients on the follow-up list.

The hospital is currently revising the services it provides to the patients and their companions in ways that do not affect standard protocol. For instance, the hospital will keep providing regular meals to the patients' companions. 

The hospital's CEO and founder Sherif Abul-Naga denied on Friday that donations to the hospital have substantially dropped. Other sources from within the hospital have affirmed, however, that donations to the hospital have dropped by 80-88 percent owing to the the economic crisis, and that the hospital can no longer cover its expenses.

Campaigns to save the hospital

In response to the crisis facing 57357, some celebrities and influencers launched a solidarity campaign on social media platforms to financially support the hospital. These campaigns echo the hospital’s appeal for help issued through its social media accounts, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. The hospital shared last week calls for donations by actors and social influencers, as well as ways to donate to the hospital whether in Egypt or abroad.

Throughout last week, the #Save_57357_hospital hashtag in Arabic became the top trending hashtag in the country on Twitter with more than 8,000 tweets and retweets calling on people to act quickly. The hashtag remained among the top trending on Twitter in Egypt until Saturday.

Moreover, Zamalek footballers Mahmoud Abdel-Razek Shikabala and Ahmed Zizo made headlines in Egypt last week during their club’s game against Haras El-Hodoud in the Egyptian Premier League, but for not winning the game.

Both players raised a T-shirt with the words “Save 57357 Hospital” written on it along with the hospital’s logo. This happened immediately after Shikabala scored the second goal for Zamalek in the game. As they celebrated the goal, the two players held the T-shirt in front of TV cameras.

Shikabala and Zizo’s gesture is the most recent attempt by Egyptian celebrities to urge the public to donate to Egypt’s well-known children's cancer hospital.

Zamalek SC stars Zizo and Shikabala carrying a Save 57357 Children's Cancer hospital T-shirt while celebrating Shikabala’s goal in the game earlier this week. Photo: Zamalek SC official Facebook page

With over 5 million followers on Instagram, actor Amr Youssef released a video on his official channel on Monday urging people to donate to save the hospital.

“The great 57357 hospital is shutting down. This hospital relies on our donations. I even heard that its Tanta branch has closed down. I have been hearing for some time now that the hospital is suffering,” Youssef said while categorically denying that anyone had asked him to post this video or speak about the matter.

“I heard that the hospital is in a difficult position because the donations declined. I understand that we are in an economic crisis and that we cannot donate as we used to. And yet I am sure we can still manage to donate,” he said.

“If you used to donate EGP 1,000, now donate EGP 800 or 500 or even 100, for each pound counts and we are 100 million Egyptians,” he said.

Youssef’s video had a snowball effect as more celebrities, social media influencers and prominent actors, such as Mona Zaki, joined the unofficial campaign to save the hospital.

57357: from conception to crisis

The plan to have a children-cancer-only hospital was conceived by a group of pediatric oncologists in Egypt’s National Cancer Institute in 1998. At that time, the Association of Friends of the National Cancer Institute (AFNCI) was formed, and it was then that the idea of having a separate hospital for children’s cancer was born.

Specialised only in children’s cancer, the 57357 hospital was inaugurated in 2007 after its first phase was completely funded through donations whether from the public or from businessmen in Egypt or abroad. The hospital is the largest of its kind in the world with a capacity of 345 beds.

Due to  media campaigns that focused heavily on urging people to donate to the hospital through its bank account number, the hospital’s account number (57357) became a byword among Egyptians and was so well-known that the hospital’s administration decided to name the hospital after it.

Following its huge success, 57357 hospital decided as part of a very ambitious plan to use its capabilities to expand into other Egyptian governorates to cover more areas, especially since many families cannot afford to come to Cairo.

In 2015, the 57357 hospital inaugurated its Tanta Branch in Nile Delta’s Gharbia governorate with a capacity of 43 beds only.

In November 2016, the hospital received its first economic blow when the Central Bank of Egypt decided to freely float the Egyptian pound as part of the economic reforms. With the depreciation of the Egyptian pound by 48 percent that year, the hospital had to deal with an unprecedented increase in the costs of all products and services.

According to the official numbers released then by the hospital, the cost of a patient in the Tanta branch was more than the cost of a patient in Cairo by nearly 30-40 percent due to the absence of basic infrastructure unlike in Cairo. The hospital administration decided then to increase the capacity of the Tanta branch to 93 beds to achieve “operation efficiency” economically.

Then in 2018 the hospital was dealt another blow whose effect endures until today.

Under the title “Dance with the Wolves”, late prominent scriptwriter Wahid Hamed roundly criticised the hospital in an opinion piece that was published in Al-Masry Al-Youm in June 2018. In that piece, Hamed questioned the way its general manager, Sherif Abul-Naga, was running the facility. Hamed was not the first to criticize the hospital and its administration, but his fame made it the talk of the town then.

Two weeks after the hospital stirred so much controversy, the Ministry of social solidarity decided to form a committee to investigate the allegations against 57357 hospital.

In December 2018, the Ministry issued its committee’s final report disproving all allegations against the hospital. There were, however, two minor legal violations revealed which the hospital announced it would willingly address.   

The final report announced that the hospital’s annual income amounted to EGP 1.3 billion (from both donations and the return on investments) and that according to the hospital the money was being used to generate more revenue to sustain the hospital through 4 tracks: bank deposits, investment certificates, treasury bills and investment funds with the highest returns.

This report, which was made public, did not, however, have the same impact that Hamed’s campaign had. In fact, Hamed’s accusations have recently resurfaced online simultaneously with the campaign that some celebrities have launched to support 57357 hospital.

Hamed’s campaign significantly lowered the amount of donations to the hospital. Still, the hospital forged ahead with its expansion plans in Tanta in February 2020 before being hit by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic and social impact.

According to previous statements by Abul-Naga, the hospital had to use its deposits to cover its expenses and the costs of treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, especially since it did not resort to layoffs like other institutions did.

Then came 2022, a year that saw two devaluations of the Egyptian pound against the US dollar, the first in March and the second in October , along with increasing inflation. In addition, the Egyptian economy’s problems – as it struggled to recover from the ramifications of the pandemic – were compounded by the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Between March’s devaluation and October’s devaluation of the pound, 57357 hospital had its own problems with the Tanta branch.

The Tanta branch’s running cost amounted to EGP 400 million. The hospital’s administration could not find ways to cover the expenses. Furthermore, only 40 percent of the planned extension of the Tanta branch had been completed. Due to the lack of so many basic facilities at the Tanta branch, the administration had to rely on the Cairo branch to provide some medical services that do not exist in the Tanta branch.   

Abul-Naga held a meeting with Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and Health Ministry officials in July to find a solution that does not have an adverse effect on the patients and that does not lead to the closure of the Tanta branch.

A solution was reached between the government and 57357 hospitals: the Tanta branch is to be operated and administrated by Tanta University, while the current patients in the branch have the freedom either to complete their treatment in Cairo or under the administration of the University.

Giving up the hospital’s branch to Tanta University did not stop the hospital from facing more economic challenges. The two depreciations of the Egyptian pound, the restrictions on imports and high inflation led the prices of medicines, medical supplies and services to skyrocket. In March 2022, the price of the essential services provided by the hospital to its patients increased by 100 percent.

Towards the end of 2022, the costs of some services that the hospital provides multiplied by 300 percent, which forced the hospital to break its last bank deposit a couple of months ago.

In a telephone call to MBC Misr TV channel’s “El-Hekeya” TV show, the hospital CEO Sherif Abul-Naga revealed that the hospital has only EGP 300 million left, an amount that covers the hospital’s working expenses for only fourth months.

“People have to stop suspecting us,” he said.  


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