Towards the universal healthcare system

Ahmed Morsy , Sunday 30 Jun 2019

The city of Port Said will be the first in Egypt to see the implementation of the country’s new universal healthcare system

Hala Zayed
Egyptian minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed, inspecting the readiness of Port Said’s hospitals

The first phase of implementing Egypt’s new universal healthcare system will roll out on 1 July in Port Said, it was announced this week.

“The inauguration of the universal healthcare system in the Port Said governorate will start with a pilot phase of two months from 1 July and ending on 1 September,” Minister of Health and Population Hala Zayed said in a statement.

During the pilot phase, quality medical services will be provided in accordance with Egyptian national standards. The first phase will also involve the completion of the data infrastructure of the new healthcare system in addition to the completion of user registration.

Zayed’s remarks came during a two-day visit to Port Said this week to review the final preparations for the opening of the new system’s hospitals.

“Starting on 1 July, patients in Port Said will be admitted to hospital after referrals from family medical units, as the hospitals will receive only emergencies and accidents without referrals,” the minister said, stressing that people should ensure that they are registered with the units and conduct a medical examination.

Egypt’s older health-insurance system, which dates to the 1960s, has been criticised as substandard. The new healthcare system aims to overcome the shortcomings of the old one, according to observers.

According to Health Ministry Spokesperson Khaled Megahed, the minister’s visit to Port Said came within a series of visits to the governorate to inspect the readiness of the new hospitals as well as medical and non-medical equipment.

“Everyone is working around the clock so that the new medical facilities are in accordance with the highest quality standards,” Zayed said. The new insurance system covers all citizens in Egypt, with the state bearing the medical expenses of the needy.

Under the old healthcare system, an employee paid one per cent of the insured salary as a premium. Under the new system, the same percentage will be deducted from total income.

A set of new taxes will also go towards financing the new system. Public and private companies of any size will have to pay a 0.25 per cent tax on their revenues to help fund the system, and food and pharmaceutical companies will need to pay a tax of 0.5 per cent.

Another means of funding will be fees on issuing and renewing drivers’ licences, toll fees on highways, and a tax of LE 0.75 on cigarette packs and a 10 per cent tax on tobacco products.

People will pay a symbolic fee for medical services, such as 10 per cent of the price of radiography and 20 per cent of the price of medical tests.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi introduced the universal healthcare system a year ago in a speech to the sixth National Youth Conference at Cairo University in July.

“If they asked me to choose between feeding or treating people, I would treat them, of course. When we stand together, we can solve any problem,” Al-Sisi said in his closing speech at the conference.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli described the new system as “one of the most important national projects” to be implemented.

The new system is scheduled to be rolled out in six stages. The first phase started in June 2018 as a preliminary stage, while the actual implementation starts next month with the governorate of Port Said.

The first phase, which lasts until 2020, also includes Suez, Ismailia, North Sinai and South Sinai. In the second phase, from 2021 to 2023, the system will be implemented in the governorates of Aswan, Matrouh, Qena, Luxor and the Red Sea.

The third phase runs from 2024 until 2026 and covers Beheira, Alexandria, Sohag, Kafr Al-Sheikh and Damietta. The fourth phase extends from 2027 to 2028 and includes Assiut, the New Valley, Minya, Beni Sweif, and Fayoum.

The fifth phase goes from 2029 to 2030 and covers Daqahliya, Gharbiya, Sharqiya and Menoufiya. The sixth and final phase covers Cairo, Giza, and Qalioubiya and will be between 2031 and 2032.

The period since the announcement of the new system has been spent on preliminary measures paving the way for its implementation, according to Presidency Spokesperson Bassam Radi.

Radi said in introducing the new system last year that the first phase included “the elimination of patient waiting lists for surgery and critical medical

interventions within six months, providing the needed stocks of infant formula and vaccines, and finishing the comprehensive survey and treatment of the Hepatitis C virus among Egyptian citizens.”

In 2018, Egypt witnessed the inauguration of the 100 Million Initiative, one of the largest medical examinations in history, to eradicate the Hepatitis C virus from Egypt by 2020.

In addition to Hepatitis C, patients have also been tested for hypertension and diabetes.

The initiative had successfully tested 50 million people and 3.2 million Thanaweya Amma [high-school exam] students for free up to May 2019. It has provided free treatment for Hepatitis C to 900,000 people.

Egypt has the highest prevalence of infection with the Hepatitis C virus worldwide.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Towards the universal healthcare system

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