Egypt's health sector races to scale up coronavirus readiness

Egypt has ramped up efforts to fight the coronavirus, ordering manufacturers to channel medical protective equipment to public hospitals and announcing 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($64 million) in extra funding for its health services.

But the capacity of the public health system to cope with an acceleration of cases in the country of 100 million, where population density could increase the chances of quick contagion, remains a concern, some of its doctors say.

Decades of underinvestment left many of Egypt's public hospitals dependent on donations for some services and supplies. Poor quality in primary healthcare facilities and public hospitals means that in recent years more than half of patients have sought private medical care, according to the World Bank.

At Boulaq public hospital in Cairo, the first major renovation for decades began a few months ago after a social media campaign, two medics there said. As other public hospitals are cordoned off to create isolation wards, those like Boulaq that remain open for normal services are feeling the strain.

"Things are not good. We feel the pressure increasing every day," said one male doctor, who asked not to be named. "We are suffering from years of accumulating (problems). We have shortages of medical equipment, devices and supply."

Egypt had allocated 125 billion pounds from its 1.6 trillion pound 2019/20 budget to the health sector. The health minister told parliament in January that 150 million Egyptian pounds had been assigned for renovations at Boulaq, but more was needed, according to state newspaper Al-Ahram.

There was no immediate response from the health ministry to calls seeking comment on Egypt's coronavirus preparedness.

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