Egypt’s border communities cut off from adequate healthcare, new briefing shows
Nubian, Bedouin and Amazigh communities in Egypt have been struggling to access adequate health services during the Covid-19 pandemic, reveals a new briefing published by Minority Rights Group International (MRG). This protracted health crisis for these marginalized groups is occurring despite a national commitment to a healthcare service for all Egyptians and huge increases in public spending on health since 2011.
In Egypt’s border areas, where many of its minorities and indigenous peoples are concentrated, millions are being spent on the external appearance of hospitals and health centres, leaving marginalized communities with an under-resourced healthcare system that results in needless deaths.
The briefing, which focuses on Nubians in Aswan, Bedouins in Sinai and Amazighs in Matrouh, emphasizes how good or even adequate healthcare is concentrated in major urban centres, far from most minorities and indigenous peoples.
‘The health status of these communities has been shaped by state policy that prioritises centralisation and systematically neglects development in rural and border areas,’ says Rasha Al Saba, Head of Middle East and North Africa Department at MRG. It is a policy that has fuelled the impoverishment of these communities for decades, which is in return a major contributor to poor health,’ adds Al Saba.
According to the briefing, healthcare facilities in border areas have inadequate equipment and bedspaces. Doctors are few, and the majority are inexperienced, poorly qualified, or specialised ‘in name only’. It argues that these factors, combined with a higher proportion of population living below the poverty line, make it challenging for minority and indigenous communities in these governates to access quality health care.
The briefing highlights how the healthcare situation in these marginalized areas, already poor, deteriorated further during the Covid-19 pandemic. In Sinai, many preferred to nurse their sick relatives at home. As one put it, ‘if one of our relatives were to catch the coronavirus, we would keep him. It would be better for him to die among us.’
The situation is so dire in Sinai that its majority Bedouin population is forced to travel hundreds of miles to Cairo for quality treatment, provided they can get past the security and military checkpoints widely deployed in the region without being subjected to random arrest on the basis of their identity.
Despite good vaccination rates in Matrouh, 14 per cent of those documented to have contracted the virus have died, about three times the national average. The briefing attributes this to the area’s deteriorated health services.
Nubians in Aswan, too, must travel long distances for healthcare. One Aswan hospital was described as ‘merely a place where doctors and staff punch the clock’. But medical tourism is out of reach for many belonging to Egypt’s minority and indigenous populations, with the poverty rate in border areas considerably higher than the national rate, sometimes exceeding 50 per cent.
The briefing’s recommendations include the implementation of decentralization policies and equitably redistributing health sector budgets, as well as ensuring free ambulance services as a basic right and addressing the root causes of this healthcare crisis through local education for doctors, thereby incentivizing them to stay in border areas.