During the last two months of 2008, hospitals around Egypt were paid surprise visits by the Ministry of Health as part of its crackdown on medical violations.
Incidents of medical negligence, sometimes fatal, and reports of illegal organ trading have been making headlines throughout the year. As they bid farewell to a turbulent year, some private hospitals also bid farewell to some of their operating rooms that were shut down by the ministry.
Last November, three patients fell victim to defective oxygen cylinders used during surgeries.
The first two cases were reported in Maadi’s Nile Badrawi Hospital. A week later a middle aged woman died while in surgery at Ain Shams Specialized hospital allegedly due to the same reasons.
Earlier the same week, 16-year-old Ali Khalifa and 47-year-old Laila Mokhtar, died after undergoing minor surgery in Nile Badrawi Hospital. The deaths of the two patients in Maadi, had led Minister of Health Hatem Al-Gabaly to decree the closure of all operating rooms in Nile Badrawi Hospital as well as the intensive care units at Misr International Hospital in Dokki.
The latest victim of defective oxygen cylinders was initially admitted to the hospital to have her gallbladder removed, but died of circulatory malfunction two days after the surgery.
Ain Shams Specialized hospital closed down all its operating rooms and stopped all surgeries requiring general anesthesia, indicating that the hospital will only operate on patients in critical condition.
Consequently, Al-Gabaly prohibited the use of the anesthetic nitrous-oxide in all hospitals as “a temporary procedure, following an investigation by a health ministry delegation.
After these three cases, authorities launched an investigation and confiscated nearly 35 oxygen cylinders from the hospital to test the levels of oxygen and nitrous-oxide in them.
The prosecution office is still investigating the incident and interrogating the doctors who operated on the victims. The doctors reportedly said that the surgeries were successful but the victims exhibited convulsions after they were released from the operating room.
Last month, violations took a different turn. In an official press statement, the Ministry of Health said several violations were discovered in Al-Marwa hospital in Dokki, which can lead to the revocation of its license.
The Ministry of Health was informed with illegal organ trading and transplant operations carried inside the hospital.
Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed Abdel Ghany, who is psychiatric patient, was allegedly talked into selling his kidney for LE 13,000.
This incident brought forth the controversies surrounding not only organ transplants, but also the neglect of mental patients in Egypt. Dr Nasser Loza, secretary general of the Mental Health Organization in Egypt, saw Abdel Ghany’s case an example of the “severe problems mental patients are subjected to in Egypt.
In the wake of this case, Loza urged the People’s Assembly (PA) to put the new mental health law on top of its agenda.
Meanwhile, the PA is yet to take a final decision on the controversial organ donation law.
Even though Islam’s definition of “death is set to settle the debate, PA Chairman Fathi Sorour excluded the PA’s religious affairs committee from the discussions, leaving the matter in the hands of the health committee, while both opposition and National Democratic Parties MPs agreed on the importance on including the religious affairs committee.
In 1997, Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawy, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, declared organ donation permissible. Sheikh Tantawy also announced his intention to donate his organs to be transplanted in other needy patients after his death.
Moreover, the debate is not taking into account the Christian point of view, fueling further controversy.
Last August, Chairman of the Doctors’ Syndicate and Chairman of the PA’s health committee Dr Hamdy El-Sayed said that organs will not be transplanted from a Christian donor to a Muslim patient and vice versa.
He explained to the Coptic Assembly of America that the draft law stipulates that organ donations are restricted to family members up to the fourth degree only, which is why “it is not possible for a Christian to donate organs to a Muslim and vice versa, he said.
His rationale did not sit well with Bishop Marcos of the Coptic Assembly of America. “We are all of the same Egyptian blood. If [this is aimed at] ending organ trafficking, we reject it because it may also occur between believers of the same religion, he said.
Bishop Marcos expressed concern that the new law may lead to prohibiting blood donations between Christians and Muslims or go as far as preventing doctors from treating patients of a different religion.