Corruption and disease take toll on victims of dialysis ‘negligence’ in Egypt

A recent incident in which seven patients died and dozens were injured while undergoing dialysis in an Egyptian hospital has triggered a debate about negligence and corruption in the Egyptian healthcare system. It is said that thousands of Egyptians who need regular dialysis have suffered.

News about the tragedy at the Deyerb Negm Central Hospital in the province of Al-Sharqia, went viral on social media. Families of the victims described how their relatives fell into a coma during dialysis session at the hospital before they died. The renal dialysis unit at Deyerb Negm was only opened on 5 May, in the presence of the former governor of Al-Sharqia, Major General Khaled Al-Saeed.

Unofficial statistics reveal that 25 per cent of Egypt’s kidney disease patients die every year; the equivalent global figure is less than 10 per cent, according to the Egyptian Society of Nephrology and Transplantation. Egypt has around two million patients suffering from kidney failure, most of whom are under 50 years old.

The Attorney General has ordered an investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, accusations are being exchanged between the dialysis machine maintenance company and the Ministry of Health, which has denied responsibility. The director of the Egyptian International Company for Medical Engineering, Ahmed Anani, has also denied responsibility.

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Possible causes of the deaths range from mechanical failure, bad filters in the dialysis unit or unsterilized machinery. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, is said to feel “guilty” about this. However, during a meeting of the Committee on Health Affairs in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Zayed admitted that “human error is possible” and vowed to bring any wrongdoers to account.

Patients complain about periodic failures with dialysis units, the lack of filters and needles and an absence of doctors who should take care of patients during treatment, as well as the increased levels of chlorine in the water used. One HIV-positive patient in the southern province of Aswan had dialysis treatment, raising fears about the possible infection of other patients given that there was no separate device for use by those with the virus.

There are around 17,000 dialysis machines in Egypt’s public and university hospitals as well as private health centres. Each is used regularly by an average of six patients daily. Many of these machines lack periodic maintenance and cleaning, which makes them a magnet for infections, diseases and viruses.

Egypt has about 460 private and government dialysis units. The country is suffering from high rates of infection among those patients under the age of 50, which suggests a serious deterioration in national health care provision. In European countries, infection tends to be limited to patients between the age of 70 and 80.