The economic crisis is taking its toll on one of Egypt’s most prestigious and successful hospitals, the Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo. Built with and operated by donations, the 16-year-old hospital has been facing tight financial conditions since the war in Ukraine started with donations decreasing dramatically.
Hospital officials have been calling on the public to help the hospital foundation to continue its mission to provide free quality care and treatment to children with cancer. They have been appearing on TV talk shows, and calls= for funds to support the hospital have been circulating on social media.
The war in Ukraine has hit the Egyptian economy hard, exacerbating the lack of foreign-currency resources, inflating import bills, and leading the pound to lose ground to the dollar.
The pound has lost more than 60 per cent of its value since the beginning of last year, reflected in spiralling inflation rates reaching 21.3 per cent in December, their highest level in five years. There have been lower profits for companies and dwindling purchasing power for households, leading many to cut back on donations to charities.
Known by its number of 57357, the hospital’s “main problem is the exponential increase in operating expenses. The cost of some items has increased more than 100 per cent over the past year. It is a challenge to estimate the upcoming budget as official exchange rates are changing every day,” Cherif Abdelaal, a hospital board member and official spokesperson, said.
The Cairo Children’s Cancer Hospital is one of the largest cancer hospitals in the world in terms of capacity, with 300 beds in the inpatient department. The number of patients annually exceeds 19,000, between newly diagnosed cases (2,000-3,000 patients), patients on treatment protocols (6,000 patients), and follow-up cases (more than 11,000 patients).
According to Abdelaal, the number increases every year because most treatment protocols last for more than one year. They usually require patients to come to the hospital more than once every year, reaching more than 80 times per year for some protocols.
“This means that the hospital has more than 300,000 patient appointments every year,” he said.
To deal with the tight financial situation, the hospital is embarking on a number of initiatives to improve efficiency without compromising on the quality of patient care. However, because of the exponential increase in costs and expenses, these initiatives alone will not be enough, and the hospital needs more donations.
Abdelaal said the hospital is totally dependent on donations and provides all its services to pediatric cancer patients free of charge. Informed sources have told local online news website Masrawy that donations declined by up to 80 per cent over the last six months of the 2022, leading the hospital’s administration to liquidate certain accounts to cover expenses.
The hospital board decided in December to freeze operations at its Tanta branch and transfer all patients to the main branch until economic conditions improve. “But the government decided to operate the facility through the University of Tanta in order to avoid its closure,” Abdelaal said.
The Tanta branch started with a capacity of 38 beds, but because of economies of scale, the average expense per patient at the Cairo branch was less by 45 per cent.
The hospital inaugurated its Tanta branch in 2015 in order to reduce the burden of transportation for patients coming from the Delta region that require chemotherapy, according to Abdelaal.
“It is important to note that the infrastructure and medical equipment at this satellite branch only allow it to provide chemotherapy and some minor procedures, and that all of the Tanta branch patients were also receiving services at the main branch in Cairo,” he said.
“Services that are available exclusively in Cairo include radiotherapy, nuclear medicine, advanced and major surgery, and bone marrow transplants.”
The hospital saw a total survival rate of 71.7 per cent in 2022, with the international overall survival rate among children with cancer being 80 per cent. “The hospital has analysed the reasons for this gap and identified some environmental factors, including pollution, and some medical reasons, for example the limited capacity of the Hospital to perform bone-marrow transplants (BMTs) for patients in need.”
“In order to close the gap, the hospital is continually improving its services to avail itself of newly adopted technologies, and it has also started a project to increase the number of BMT beds from nine to 27.”
While the hospital team is doing its best to deal with the economic crisis, civil society is trying to help as well.
Actors have made videos on social media asking for funds, and a soccer player wearing a T-shirt with “Save 57357” has also taken part. A leading advertising agency is donating two tickets to a prestigious cultural event to support the hospital.
“We are having an auction for the two tickets to attend the performance by renowned soprano Fatma Said and maestro Nader Abbassi at the Grand Egyptian Museum on 20 January, with proceeds going to the Hospital,” Ahmed Ebeid, RMC worldwide partners managing director told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The starting bid for each ticket is LE57,000.
Abbassi stressed the importance of the hospital, adding that his relationship with it started when he was invited by the administration to participate in the launch of an art therapy centre there a year ago.
“I was really impressed when I visited the hospital last year, especially after knowing that children receive treatment there for free,” Abbassi told the Weekly. He added that the Friends of the Cairo Opera House is also planning a concert whose takings will be donated to the hospital.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 12 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly