CAIRO: It was 2:30 am when Ahmed Reda, 22, felt a severe stomachache while he was spending a weekend at the North Coast with family and friends. By 6 am he decided to seek medical help and headed for the resort’s clinic, only to find it closed. He then went to Mubarak Hospital, the nearest hospital on the North Coast Highway, whose services are continuously praised by news reports ever since it opened a couple of years ago.
“At the gates of the hospital the guards seemed surprised to see us, it’s like they see people once every year. Anyway, we went into the emergency room only to find a nurse who told us to wait while she goes to wake up the doctor on call, explained Reda.
The doctor came half an hour later, examined him and said that this is probably a case of appendicitis but they’ll have to run some tests first. However, the doctor told him that he’ll have to wait a while until the hospital’s lab opens an hour or so later.
“I didn’t wait after that, I went straight back to Cairo because if the tests came back positive, I was definitely not going to go into surgery at that hospital, said Reda.
The lack of well-equipped hospitals, emergency rooms and ambulances has always been a rising concern among Egyptians, especially on highways and at holiday destinations such as the North Coast. People usually choose to cut their vacation and go back to Cairo or Alexandria when they want to see a doctor. But the issue poses a particular challenge when a car accident, or a similar emergency, takes place and the patients have to wait for hours, which sometimes costs them their lives.
“This can never happen, especially on the Alexandria-Marsa Matrouh Highway [North Coast Highway] where we have more than six hospitals of high quality, said Dr Mohamed Sultan, general manager of the emergencies and ambulances department at the Ministry of Health.
There are currently six hospitals spread along the North Coast Highway: Hammam Hospital, Al-Alamein Hospital, Matrouh Hospital, Ra’as El Hikma Hospital, Marina Medical Center and Mubarak Hospital.
Even though Reda’s incident took place a couple of weeks ago, Sultan argues that this is very unlikely, especially during the summer. “Starting May we increase the number of doctors during each shift to three doctors instead of one for every specialty in order to be better prepared for anyone who comes in at any time of the day, he said.
Every resort is required by law to have a clinic within its premises, he added.
Yet, the number of stories of fatal highway accidents that plague summer vacations every year is leaving people skeptical about the ministry’s promises. The availability of ambulances and their prompt response, or rather the lack of it, have always been criticized.
Last year Sarah Ibrahim and Ramy Hakim, two fresh high school graduates, lost their lives in a car accident in front of the gates of Marina, the renowned North Coast resort. Friends, family and volunteers called an ambulance and hurried to the scene to help them out. The ambulance didn’t arrive and the two were taken to a hospital in Alexandria. By the time they got to the hospital, Ibrahim had already lost her life while Hakim was fighting for his. He passed away a week later.
“It’s all in God’s hands, but we couldn’t help but think that if the ambulance arrived right away or an equipped emergency room was available on the Coast, they could have been with us now, said Safaa Abdel-Wahab, a friend of the two.
This year, on July 16, a truck failed to stop at a level crossing and pushed waiting traffic into the path of a speeding train. The accident left more than 40 people dead and 38 injured. Ambulances arrived two hours after the accident that took place 80 km east of Marsa Matrouh.
The Ministry of Health, however, says it has taken new measures to improve ambulances’ response this year.
Starting from July 22 this year, 50 new ambulances are now spread in stations throughout the Cairo-Alexandria Highway, Wadi El-Natroun Highway and North Coast Highway, noted Sultan.
These are 50 out of 1,213 ambulances to be stationed throughout this year in different parts of the country, mainly highways, such as the Ain Sokhna and Sharm El-Sheikh Highways. “They are highly equipped with the latest medical technology and will arrive at the scene of an accident within eight to 10 minutes after they are contacted, he added.
In addition, Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabaly has recently announced the launch of helicopter ambulances for the first time in Egypt. There are currently two of them, the first located in Cairo, available for highways and ring-roads in Cairo, Giza, Qalioubiya, Sixth of October and Helwan. The second is in Suez and will be available for highways leading from Cairo to Ain Sokhna, Hurghada, Marsa Alam and Sharm El-Sheikh.