CAIRO: Alleged plans announced by the minister of health to drastically reduce the number of illnesses covered by government-sponsored healthcare have been met by both NGO consternation and confusion, while government aides say they know nothing about the plans.
Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabaly was quoted in Monday’s edition of government mouthpiece Al-Ahram as saying that government-funded healthcare will be limited to six illnesses; cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, Hepatitis C, diabetes and blood pressure.
An estimated 50 percent of Egypt’s population – individuals not covered by some form of healthcare insurance – currently benefit from the government-sponsored healthcare system, under which the health ministry receives applications from patients requiring funds for treatment. Successful applicants receive funding for all or a portion of the cost of their treatment.
El-Gabaly has reportedly warned a PA health committee meeting against the “collapse of healthcare in Egypt, saying that healthcare spending currently stands at LE 10 billion. The minister proposed increasing beneficiaries’ contributions to the health insurance scheme as one way of “closing the gap between the health ministry budget and the cost of the health insurance scheme.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) criticized El-Gabaly’s statements yesterday.
Right to health program director Alaa Ghanem said in a press statement, “talk about increasing citizens’ healthcare insurance contributions confirms that the state really is reneging on its responsibilities to protect the rights to health and life. This is in addition to the way in which these decrees discriminate against low-income patients.
Ghanem adds in the statement that current events testify to the “unprepared and arbitrary way in which the state manages health services .
EIPR inquiries have revealed that health ministry officials were unaware in advance of the plans announced by El-Gabaly.
The NGO says that in telephone calls health ministry officials from the Administration for Medical Councils (responsible for managing government-funded healthcare) and the office of Dr. Emad Ezzat, director of the ministry’s legal affairs department and the minister’s office, told EIPR researchers that they knew nothing about the decree and that no official directives to restrict government-funded healthcare to the six illnesses listed by El-Gabaly have been issued.
EIPR expressed concern at “the secretive and non-transparent way in which the ministry makes and implements its general policies , and warned that the minister’s statements might constitute a “balloon test testing public opinion ahead of a plan to narrow government-funded healthcare. The NGO said that this would constitute a “flagrant violation of the rights to health and life .
EIPR deputy director Soha Abdelaty told Daily News Egypt that El-Gabaly’s statements form part of a continuing debate about the future of Egypt’s healthcare.
“There have been a number of suggestions on how to better administer and manage the government-funded healthcare program after certain hospitals decided to discontinue serving patients from this program under the pretext that the ministry of health owes them a lot of money, and the outbreak of the corruption scandal that followed, she explained.
El-Gabaly recently announced plans to “postpone a controversial draft law that if approved would radically shake up Egypt’s health insurance system.
While the minister cited a lack of funds as the reason for the postponement, at a recent general assembly of the Doctors’ Syndicate right to health activist Mohamed Hassan Khalil said that the decision was taken in response to the intense campaign against the bill launched by rights groups.
Abdelaty explained that if passed, the draft healthcare insurance law would dissolve government-funded healthcare “as its provisions include treatment for the economically disadvantaged to be funded by the government . Abdelaty warned however against restricting access to government-funded treatment before the law is passed.
“We think that one of the best ways to reform the health system is the introduction of universal health insurance; however, one that ensures fair and equitable access to all and that is efficiently funded by the state.
“In the meantime however, and until the law is adopted, the government-funded program should not under any circumstances be abolished or amended in a way that affects people s access to it .