Cancer institute campaign united for good

Sarah Elhosary , Tuesday 21 May 2024

Work on Egypt’s New National Cancer Institute is bringing new hope to the country’s oncology patients, writes Sarah Elhosary


Oncology patients in Egypt are eagerly awaiting the opening of the New National Cancer Institute, also known as the 500 500 Hospital, in Sheikh Zayed city, which is scheduled to open in the coming months. 

“This project, one of the most impactful non-profit initiatives in Egypt today, has resonated with the majority of Egyptians,” said Noha Talaat, executive director for Communication and Fundraising at the 500 500 Hospital and board member of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights.

“Since its announcement in 2016, the 500 500 Hospital has been widely supported by the public due to their trust in Cairo University, which oversees the project, and the performance of the old National Cancer Institute [NCI],” Talaat said.

“Since its establishment in 1969 in Fom Al-Khalig Square in Old Cairo, the NCI has provided medical treatments to oncology patients charging only symbolic fees. But it was necessary to build a new institute that could help more cases.”

The public responded to the many fund-raising campaigns to establish the new institute, with the “United for Good” campaign being the most impactful. This campaign was based on cooperation among individuals to raise the funds required to cover the costs of building a ward in the new 500 500 Hospital. Hence, the name reflects the collective effort to do good, Talaat said.

“The first ward funded by this campaign was dedicated to the memory of Ahmed Mansi, an army martyr, and his family. Others also collaborated to build various rooms in the hospital in memory of their loved ones, such as families, friends, and many members of the police and military academies who made donations in honour of martyred colleagues.” 

Sports clubs like Ahly Sporting Club team donated to commemorate former famous football player and club president Saleh Selim. Graduates from various colleges, colleagues from schools, neighbours from residential complexes, and people living in near-by streets all collaborated to fund rooms in the hospital.

“The advertising campaign United for Good has attracted people from various age groups since its launch in 2018, with school children collaborating by contributing their pocket money to cover the cost of creating a playing area for kids at the 500 500 Hospital, for example,” Talaat said. 

“Many artists also donated their work to the campaign, with some also contributing monetary amounts. We have completed the construction of the hospital using these funds, and others are waiting to contribute to its operational costs. We intend to welcome everyone who contributed to the opening to witness the result of their collaboration,” she said.

“Most of the services available at the NCI are available at the 500 500 Hospital, with new additions inspired by the experiences and needs of patients. For example, every oncologist knows that it is essential to address any accompanying illnesses before embarking on the cancer treatment journey, as these could weaken the patient’s immunity. Unfortunately, this can mean that before receiving cancer treatment patients find themselves forced to move from one place to another in search of specialised clinics.

“To alleviate the burden on patients and their families, we have therefore added clinics in various specialties under one roof. If a cancer patient has a dental infection that remains untreated, it can affect bodily functions or lead to an abscess that delays their treatment, for example. Consequently, the patient will have to find a dental clinic and treat the problem before certain stages of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, which weakens the patient’s immunity and can exacerbate any accompanying problems.

“We have established a dental clinic at the 500 500 Hospital as a result. We have also added a woman’s and maternity clinic to monitor the pregnancies of female cancer patients.”

In addition to pre-emptive treatments for cancer, patients may also require other specialties such as nutrition clinics during their cancer treatment, as explained by the wife of one cancer patient. 

“My husband’s appetite declined with each chemotherapy session, and his weight significantly decreased to the point where we had to buy new clothes to fit him. Because he could not consume solid food, I took him to a nutritionist who recommended a liquid nutrient instead of food,” she said.

“If there is a problem with the patient’s nutrition leading to overall health problems, we won’t be able to continue chemotherapy, and the patient won’t be able to proceed with their recovery journey. This is why we have prioritised adding a nutrition clinic to the hospital,” Talaat said. 

“The hospital also has psychological and neurological support services for patients and their families. We have a physical therapy department because, after the removal of certain tumours, especially bone tumours, the patient may have difficulty using the operated limb, so we have a department for patient rehabilitation.”

“In addition to the specialty clinics, the 500 500 Hospital has state-of-the-art equipment such as atomic scanning, magnetic resonance imaging, and Gamma Knife surgery for brain tumour removal. The operating theatres are self-sterilising and are prepared to conduct the most precise surgeries while minimising the risk of infections,” Talaat said.

TREATMENTS: Many hospitals in Egypt provide free cancer treatments, yet patients can still face some challenges when receiving treatment at these facilities. 

“We are committed to addressing the obstacles facing patients when seeking free treatment at various hospitals, such as their accepting all age groups, both men and women, and all types of cancerous tumours, including rare ones. Some hospitals specialise in treating specific types of cancer, such as breast cancer or pediatric cancer, or treating cancers that affect women only,” Talaat said.

“The other aspect is our acceptance of patients at various stages of treatment, including advanced stages and cases of relapse, while some hospitals may insist on not admitting patients who have already started part of their treatment protocol and are in the middle of treatment.

“The priority of these hospitals is to ensure high recovery rates before the admission of all patients, and a patient’s commitment to a single treatment protocol increases their chances of recovery.

“However, the 500 500 Hospital encompasses all stages and types of treatment, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and surgical procedures, along with a specialised department for early tumour detection and diagnosis. We have all the necessary equipment to take samples, conduct tests, or perform radiology scans to classify the patient’s condition, determine disease progression, and establish the appropriate treatment protocol.

“Thus, patients will have everything they need for diagnosis and treatment without being referred to other hospitals for surgeries or specialised radiology services that are not available at our hospital,” she stated.

Another aspect of cancer treatment is managing the pain of patients with non-curable tumours. One son of a cancer patient recounted his father’s experience in this regard.

“My father suffered from severe pain in the terminal stages of the disease. The doctors prescribed a strong painkiller to alleviate the pain, and he continued to receive it even after slipping into a coma and being unable to request pain relief,” he said.

“The medical team monitored his pain levels to determine the appropriate dosage. My father received this palliative care outside Egypt, but it is a crucial and essential aspect that should be available to terminal cancer patients in every country.”

The New National Cancer Institute will include palliative care, according to Talaat. A special department will be dedicated to non-curable cases, providing patients with psychological support and palliative treatments. Hospital supervision will ensure that patients receive the needed prescription-only painkillers to ease their pain during the final months of their illness.

“As our previous interaction with cancer patients has helped us understand their actual and psychological needs, we have been able to identify factors that can affect recovery rates. Therefore, the design of the rooms includes panoramic views to provide patients with positive energy, along with private bathrooms to minimise the risk of infection due to weakened immune systems during the treatment,” Talaat said.

“There is a children’s area and a day-care centre for the children of nurses, doctors, and staff, allowing them to work without worries or tension. There is also a school specifically for children with leukaemia who are required to stay in the hospital for extended periods. This school will help them continue their education and take exams without falling behind their peers,” she added.

According to Talaat, treating tumours effectively requires continuous development to improve recovery rates and methods. Since the 500 500 Hospital is under Cairo University’s supervision, it naturally serves as a teaching hospital and academic institution and is related to scientific research and continuous service development. 

It has an animal research laboratory, where treatments are tested on animals. “Even research to test side effects, difficult to find in Egypt, will be conducted in the new hospital laboratory,” Talaat said.

In order to gather all aspects and stages of cancer treatment in one place, there was a need for an intelligently designed facility that maximises space usage. “To maximise the building space, we added six underground floors to a 12-storey building during the design phase. Cairo University donated a 42-acre area to the total project area, with 200,000 square metres designated for the buildings,” Talaat said.

“The 500 500 Hospital will have the area in Egypt designated for medical projects. It will have the space capacity to handle a large volume of patients and provide comprehensive medical care.” 

The construction of the new institute began in 2016, coinciding with the establishment of a charitable institution under the name of the New National Cancer Institute Foundation 500 500, to facilitate and establish the project. 

“The initial stages of construction were the most challenging, involving preparing the infrastructure and constructing the supporting walls for buildings that are of significant depth and height. The new institute is designed to surpass the current Institute in both administrative and technical aspects, and it has a clinical capacity of more than 220,000 patients annually,” Talaat said.


CONSTRUCTION: In the first stage of the 500 500 Hospital project, 1,000 individual rooms have been constructed for patient accommodation, and the outpatient clinics will serve 120,000 patients annually. 

Two towers have been constructed. In the first, there are outpatient clinics, reception areas, waiting rooms, and registration facilities, and in the second, there are patient accommodation, operating theatres, intensive care facilities, intermediate care units, radiation therapy departments, and laboratories for the collection and analysis of samples. 

Upon the completion of the second and third phases, the Hospital is expected to be able to accommodate around 300,000 patients annually. ”Every stage will take three years of continuous work,” Talaat said. 

“President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has emphasised the collaboration of all state institutions to ensure the success of this project. He has affirmed that it is a major project, executed at the highest level in cooperation with civil society, and represents a strong addition to Egypt’s healthcare system,” she added.

“We have received substantial support from Egypt’s political leadership. Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli meets with the hospital’s board of trustees regularly, as does Minister of Health and Population Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Ayman Ashour, and others, to expedite the project under the president’s direction.

“Madbouly emphasised the importance of safeguarding the investments made in this large medical facility and selecting a professional management team to operate it. This team should have the authority and flexibility to ensure the delivery of exceptional medical services. He also said it would be a good idea to explore partnerships with international organisations specialising in managing large healthcare facilities to benefit from global expertise in the field. He called for a clear plan to cover the costs of equipping and furnishing the hospital and outpatient clinics and meeting annual operating requirements. 

“During a recent meeting, Minister Ashour said that negotiations are underway with various organisations to secure the best operational agreements and exceptional medical services. Minister Abdel-Ghaffar confirmed the availability of highly qualified staff, emphasising the importance of operating mechanisms that ensure the preservation of the investments made while delivering high-quality medical services.

“We are formulating plans for furnishings and medical equipment, along with initial operating cost estimates,” Talaat said. “There is a simultaneous focus on securing investment capital according to the president’s instructions to ensure the project’s ongoing success and sustainability.

“The project administration will involve professors, physicians, educators, and assistants from Cairo University and the former NCI. Additionally, we have established a collaboration protocol with the MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Texas in the US to adopt their cancer treatment guidelines. We also have collaborations with international medical experts for consultations, specialised visits, joint research endeavours, and participation in medical events hosted at the medical centre within the new Institute.”

“We have received significant state support for building and constructing under the guidance of the president. Some patients’ treatment costs will be covered by health insurance, while others will receive state-funded treatment. The remaining patients will be supported by donations from individuals and institutions in Egypt,” Talaat concluded.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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