CAIRO: State spending on healthcare must increase to 10 percent of next year’s budget, Right to Health activists said during a protest on Tuesday.
“Health must be the top priority, not only because it’s the people’s right, but because without health and education there can be no development,” said Mohamed Hassan Khalil, a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Right to Health.
“The health minister repeatedly talks about excellence in healthcare … but excellence begins by allocating 10 percent of the budget to healthcare,” Khalil continued.
Only about five percent of the national budget is currently dedicated to healthcare.
Khalil and around 30 doctors, nurses and activists gathered outside the People’s Assembly where they held up placards reading “weak spending on health equals poor healthcare” and “real healthcare is possible through a doubling of the health budget.”
Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) an NGO which works on right to health issues, told Daily News Egypt that Tuesday’s protest was the first organized by the Committee for the Defense of the Right to Health demanding an increase in the “unacceptably low public spending on health.”
“The state’s budget is currently being debated in parliament and the reason we are here this morning is to demand an increase in the financial allocations to healthcare,” Bahgat said.
“Egypt is a country with serious health problems, and serious problems with access to public health services. At the same time allocations to health in the current budget is below 5 percent — which is shameful and unacceptable.”
A public letter sent by lobby group Doctors Without Rights to 450 MPs criticizes the LE 19.2 billion allocated to health in the 2010/2011 budget proposal currently before parliament.
This figure, which it says represents 4.6 percent of the total LE 394.5 billion budget, is far below the at least 15 percent healthcare allocation recommended by the United Nations.
The letter points out that “setting government healthcare spending has no relation to whether the country is poor or wealthy; both are required to allocate the same percentage of total budget spending [to health]”.
Low healthcare spending is “the principle cause of the deterioration in healthcare conditions in Egypt,” the letter says, and is closely linked to the wages of ministry of health doctors, the “vast majority” of which live “below the poverty line”.
The letter is also critical of the government’s move towards privatization of healthcare in Egypt.
In 2008, the Administrative Court froze government plans to place Egypt’s health insurance system under the control of a profit-making company, while earlier this year the government withdrew a health insurance bill which EIPR described as “flawed”.
Khalil said that the incumbent Health Minister Hatem El-Gabaly is the first minister who has “reduced the number of hospitals during his tenure”.
Khalil said that during his tenure, 70 fever hospitals were closed and 397 supplementary hospitals were transformed to outpatient clinics.