Egypt's health initiatives, economic reforms cushioned blow of coronavirus, President Sisi says at WYF

Ahram Online , Monday 10 Jan 2022

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said on Monday that the health initiatives and economic reforms Egypt had introduced in the years prior to the coronavirus outbreak have ameliorated the pandemic and cushioned its many challenges over the past two years.

Screenshot of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi during launching the WYF in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday, 10 January 2022

Addressing the opening session of the World Youth Forum (WYF) that kicked off Monday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, El-Sisi said Egypt had launched several health initiatives in the three years preceding the pandemic to screen and overcome hepatitis C and non-communicable diseases.

Among them is the 100 Million Health initiative, which included mass screenings for all citizens over the age of 18 for the early detection of hepatitis C infections, as well as nationwide treatment. The initiative has screened over 60 million people out of Egypt’s 102-million population.

El-Sisi underscored that Egypt – thanks to this approach – is now one of the countries least affected by hepatitis C. Prior to the initiative, Egypt had one of the highest rates of hepatitis C infections worldwide.

"Let us envisage what would have happened if Egypt had faced the pandemic with this number of communicable disease patients, and how high the infection rate would have been," El-Sisi said during the WYF's opening session themed “COVID-19: A Warning to Humanity and A New Hope.”

The initiative also targeted and provided treatment for non-communicable diseases like diabetes, hypertension and obesity, which accounts for about 70 percent of premature deaths in Egypt.

Such initiatives allowed us to "vividly see” the health of Egyptians, he pointed out.

El-Sisi said Egypt had adopted a partial lockdown with "strict" precautionary measures, unlike other countries that applied a full lockdown, noting that each country’s response was based on the capabilities of their health sector.

Egypt has reported a total of 392,857 infections so far, including 21,964 fatalities, and 327,144 recoveries since the emergence of the pandemic locally in February 2020.

"The result achieved in terms of [coronavirus] infections and deaths in comparison to similar countries in terms of their population is very positive," he stressed.

El-Sisi also asserted that Egypt's adoption of its economic reform programme in 2016 spared the country "greater" repercussions of the pandemic.

Egypt wrapped up of the first phase of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) backed economic reform programme in 2019, and is currently shifting focus to the second phase that covers structural reforms.

The first phase included the floating of the Egyptian pound, lifting nearly all fuel subsidies, implementing a value-added tax and raising the prices of electricity and transport.

This "harsh" programme, El-Sisi explained, allowed the Egyptian economy to "bear bigger shocks."

These IMF-backed measures helped Egypt secure a needed $12 billion loan from the global lender.

Egypt also rolled out other initiatives to handle fallout from the pandemic, El-Sisi noted, stressing that the country has never suspended its development projects over the past two years.

The country has provided financial aid to irregular workers, who are affected most by the pandemic, and also launched the Decent Life initiative to combat poverty across Egypt’s countryside, he added.

In March 2020, El-Sisi instructed the government to disburse EGP 500 in monthly financial aid payments – initially set for six months and then extended for another six months – to irregular workers.

The EGP 700 billion Decent Life initiative, which was officially inaugurated in July 2021, aims to improve the standards of living, infrastructure, and basic services – including healthcare – across the countryside.

El-Sisi said Egypt is among a few nations that have achieved positive growth rates during the pandemic, with 3.6 percent in FY 2019/20 and 3.3 percent in 2020/21.

"The coronavirus pandemic is the greatest challenge that has faced humanity in modern history, as it has posed compounding problems at political, economic and social levels," the president said.

"But we always say that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity," he noted.

The annual event, which Egypt inaugurated in 2017 to bring the world’s youth together to promote dialogue and discuss development issues, will be running from 10-13 January.

Earlier during the opening ceremony, El-Sisi said "the World Youth Forum has become a platform for dialogue and communication among young people, and is a tool for exchanging visions between the entire world, especially at this crucial moment in human history."

With over 15,000 people from more than 160 countries taking part in the last three editions of the forum, the fourth edition of the WYF is hosting hundreds of youths who hail from 196 countries.

This juncture, the Egyptian president stressed, makes it imperative to realise the importance of dialogue and managing differences between people without discrimination.

El-Sisi added that humanity cannot overcome its current crises and challenges without the sincere intention to end conflicts, manage differences and work jointly in the interests of humanity and peace.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Jordan’s Crown Prince Al-Hussein bin Abdullah II attended the opening ceremony.

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