Health Care in Danger: Medical professionals pay price for political unrest

Lobna Monieb , Thursday 18 Dec 2014

In a conference on health care in Egypt, medical officials and experts address challenges that face health care providers during a time of political unrest

Health conference
Health Care in Danger conference. ERC secretary general (left), health minister's representative and chief of ICRC Egypt delegation. Cairo, 18 Dec. 2014 (Photo: Lobna Monieb)

Usually being among the first to pay the price in times of conflict, more than 250 paramedic and ambulance service workers have sustained various injuries through different incidents in Egypt since 2011.

This indicates an increasing danger to health care providers, Egyptian health officials and experts said at a conference on Thursday. 

During the Health Care in Danger conference held by the Egyptian Red Crescent (ERC) and International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), Secretary General of the ERC, Dr. Moamena Kamel said 2012 recorded 921 violations against health care givers, equipment and facilities "affecting 1000 victims, including 614 doctors and nurses.”

The Health Care in Danger project was initiated by the ICRC in 2011, in collaboration with the ERC and the Egyptian health ministry to tackle the "evident" targeting of health care givers and facilities.

Aside from the long list of those injured, at least 300 ambulances have been damaged while one health care worker has died during Egypt's past few years of political unrest.

According to Ahmed El-Ansari, chief of the Egyptian ambulance services, most damage to ambulance personnel and equipment occurred during armed conflicts and clashes, followed by electricity blackouts and technological breakdowns.

"We have also lost equipment and suffered human injuries through usual traffic accidents, like any other vehicle on Egypt’s roads," El-Ansari explained.

Worldwide, the need for humanitarian efforts has heightened in recent years, which is reflected in the record budget of $1.68 billion for ICRC in 2015.

Chief of the ICRC delegation in Egypt, Marrianne Gasser, highlighted that the lack of security is "just as fatal as direct attacks against medical personnel and structures," but harder to measure. A security vacuum usually leads to medical workers giving up their work, hospitals closing down and the disruption of vaccination campaigns, Gasser said.

Mohamed Sultan, ICRC's head of Communications confirmed that they are in contact with all parties of conflicts in the region, to guarantee safe movement to their crews and health care to those in need.

"Our main duty is to remind authorities of their responsibility for protecting health care providers," Sultan said, adding that conditions in Egyptian medical facilities have improved over the past year.

Speaking for the health minister, MD Hisham Atta, chief of the curative medicine department of the ministry, asserted that the ministry is sufficiently ready for all encounters with the required training, awareness and quarantine rooms.

"Our doctors in various governorates are ready to handle victims of road accidents as well as gunshots,” he said.

Atta confirmed that the ministry's health care givers operate in the violence-stricken North Sinai and that they provide services to all citizens.

From his side, Dr. El-Ansari revealed that Egypt currently has 2,700 ambulances, which is 1,100 short of the 3,800 total needed to meet international standards.

Nonetheless, El-Ansari insisted that the ambulance service has recently improved, adding that citizens' requests for ambulance services increased by 30 percent from 2012 to 2013.  

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