On 28 October, in Cairo University's Kasr El-Aini Hospital, crowds of students were gathering and increasing in number every minute around a handful of their colleagues, each of whom was enthusiastically holding a mockup model of a heart.
"Tomorrow the world celebrates World Stroke Day. The real change starts from awareness here, and we are honoured to be participating in it," Badr El-Din Adel, a third year medical student told Ahram Online.
"While the world focuses its attention 29 October on strokes, which claim the lives of millions each year, unfortunately in Egypt there is deep rooted inadequacy in dealing with this problem," said Dr Hossam Salah, director of the Stroke Unit at Manial Hospital and the latter's deputy manager.
"Hence this initiative that tackles the problem on the ground, starting at the level of medical personnel, without a huge fuss or an extravaganza of conferences.
"A year ago we started mobilising on the need to induce change. And in February a call from doctors to inaugurate the first unit in the Middle East specialised in treating strokes for free was initiated. It will be opened by the beginning of 2016," Salah says.
Dr Sherif Hamdy, head of neurology at Cairo University, talks more about the upcoming achievement: "A whole floor will be totally specialised in treating stroke victims, and we will focus on fast intervention to treat the clot before it leads to paralysis. Within three hours a clot can be dissolved, and that’s why signs are very important to know."
Hamdy adds that the treatment shot needed is quite expensive for most Egyptians — costing almost LE7000 pounds — but efforts are being exerted to negotiate reducing the price, or increasing the funding available to provide patients with free treatment — either through governmental subsidies or external donations.
"We started and took the main step forward by launching campaigns and inaugurating the first stroke unit of this kind and capacity in the Middle East. We will move forward to tackling the drug issue later, and it is notable that not all patients need it," Salah concludes, adding that the future will see awareness campaigns moving further to talk to people in different governorates.
Photo for Ahram Online by: Ingy Deif
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), worldwide 15 million people fall victim to strokes every year. In the United States, every six seconds someone is striken by a blood clot.
A stroke leads to the death of brain cells when they are deprived blood flow and oxygen.
In general, there are two different types of strokes: a clot occurs in one of the veins or arteries, obstructing the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. This is called an Ischemic stroke. Or blood flow to the brain is prevented by a rupture in the blood vessel. This is called a haemorrhagic stroke.
The untold story of strokes in Egypt
The dire situation in Egypt is explained further by Dr Hossam: "In Egypt, unfortunately we don’t have a national registry until now. But we do have estimates that indicate with a high degree of accuracy certain figures. The minimum number of stroke victims in Egypt reaches 210,000 each year, and of those nearly 50,000 are in Cairo.
"Kasr El-Aini Hospital receives 1,500 cases each year, and that was the case without a specialised stroke unit. So when the latter is officially open to the public, we predict that the numbers of those admitted with strokes will double.
"Kasr El-Aini remains a haven for Egyptians seeking medical assistance, and the scope of its role can be measured by the facts. It accepts each year one million cases, and a further 100,000 in out-patient clinics.
"Strokes were, until recently, the second leading cause of death worldwide, before things got a bit better."
Time is very important, when a stroke happens it has to be dealt with on the spot, as each minute that passes means the death of almost two million brain cells. Some 35,000 cells per second are jeopardised.
According to the WHO, almost 80 percent of strokes are preventable by managing the main risk factors, like high blood pressure, smoking, bad eating habits, lack of exercise and atrial fibrillation.
Above all, awareness should be raised regarding signs that point to the high probability of a stroke. They include:
· if one side of the face is drooped or numb
· a difficulty of uttering words correctly or repeating simple sentences
· Raising both arms, one of them would drop or be lower than the other significantly.
· Severe sudden headache
· A sudden blur in one or both eyes
· Difficulty in walking or keeping balance.