Egypt Pulse

Egyptians criticize government's response to epidemics

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Article Summary
Lack of vaccines and slow response time has prompted many to accuse the Ministry of Health of not doing enough.

CAIRO — Fear and panic have gripped many Egyptian families because of the simultaneous spread of four contagious viral diseases in Egyptian territories — mumps, measles, chickenpox and bird flu. As a result, some families in the regions infected with these diseases forbade their children from going to school.

The Ministry of Health was faced with anger at its dealing with the diseases, especially after some patients died. A citizen even filed a complaint against the Minister of Health at the police station.

The Ministry of Health and Population issued a report on Dec. 8 that revealed 1,823 cases of mumps, 1,115 cases of chickenpox and 1,356 cases of measles, from which six people died. These cases were reported between the beginning of September and Dec. 6. From the beginning of January to Dec. 6, 15 cases of bird flu were reported, from which seven people died.

An official report issued by the Central Administration of Preventive Medicine at the General Authority for Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Agriculture revealed that bird flu hotspots have increased to 211 in 21 governorates, including nine spots in farms, 153 in houses and 49 in markets from January 2014 to today. Active detection is ongoing in districts where new hotspots of the disease have appeared, especially within tribes.

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The authority resumed its active detection campaigns to reduce the flight of birds between districts, tighten control on poultry farms and their follow-up, review biosecurity rules for farms in the Delta and the Nile Valley and close down noncompliant farms to protect public health and the environment. The General Authority for Veterinary Services also aims to monitor the slaughter of poultry and animals and provide comprehensive protection for the domestic raising of poultry as well as provide free bird shelters in the provinces. There should also be a plan of action that includes all workers, from doctors and helpers to employees and drivers, such that their work to combat other diseases is not hampered.

During a news conference Dec. 16, Minister of Health Adel Adawi said that the government does not intend to carry out a mass slaughter of farm birds or domestic birds, unlike what happened earlier to deter the spread of bird flu.

“To avoid slaughtering our poultry, the citizens and media should cooperate with us to show the danger of the disease, the current situation and the prevention methods. Moreover, citizens should realize the importance of heading to hospitals immediately in case they experience any symptoms,” Adawi said. “According to cumulative rates, we might find new bird flu and measles hotspots, as some cases have not been vaccinated. The ministry is launching campaigns to contain the cases as soon as they emerge.”

Adawi noted that a high-profile committee has been formed to study the epidemiological evolution of measles.

“We might launch a national vaccination campaign, if need arises. But, if there is no need, we won’t put more financial burden on the government’s shoulders,” Adawi said, announcing that the number of measles cases have reached 1,525 since the beginning of 2014 until the end of November, including 49% males and 51% females. The number of cases has risen to 1,741 with the limited epidemic in Matruh governorate.

Zeinab Kheir, CEO of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, told Al-Monitor that the crisis can be traced back to the fact that most Egyptian villages are deprived of sanitation and water services, and that social and economic rights in rural areas are lacking.

Kheir believes the epidemics that have recently surfaced are primarily the government’s responsibility.

“There are vaccines for these epidemics. The problem might be caused by corrupt and expired vaccines distributed by the government. Moreover, the government has indeed distributed a corrupt polio vaccine in Aswan, leading to the emergence of the disease among children who were already vaccinated,” she said.

Kheir accused the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education for not owning up to their responsibilities in dealing with the epidemics of measles, mumps and chickenpox among students.

“A state of emergency was not declared and infected schools were not closed, although classes are jammed and unclean due to a lack of capabilities,” she said.

“The Minister of Health blamed the parents for the spread of measles in schools and accused them of slacking in vaccinating their children, although he is well aware that Egyptian schools do not admit any student if he does not hold a certificate proving that he has undergone all necessary vaccines,” she said.

She added that there were no social calls or communication with civil society organizations, unlike before, when the latter were asked to participate in bird flu awareness campaigns.

Hani Hilal, head of the Egyptian Center for the Rights of the Children, told Al-Monitor, “If the Ministry of Health claims that the epidemic is because of a slackening in vaccines, then this means that the Egyptian vaccination program is flawed. Before the 2011 January revolution, it had a 97% success rate in Egypt.” Hilal added, “Because of the deteriorating security situation, awareness campaigns are not reaching remote villages and regions.”

Hilal refused the government’s stance in blaming families and asserted that children spend most of their days at school and that these infections prove the miserable failure of the health insurance system.

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Found in: vaccines, social justice, schools, sanitation, health, egypt, disease, children

Rami Galal is a contributor for Al-Monitor’s Egypt Pulse and works as an investigative reporter for the Rosa el-Youssef website. On Twitter: @ramiglal

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