After Corona victims exceeded 500 deaths among physicians: The state must declare a state of mourning for the defenders of our lives, and double efforts to protect medical teams and compensate for their sacrifices
Today, at dawn, the Doctors’ Syndicate announced that the number of deaths among physicians due to Covid-19 had reached 500. Subsequently, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) called on the state today to declare a state of mourning for the lives of those physicians. The Initiative said that Egypt had lost 500 defenders of our lives and health on the front line against a global pandemic that has lasted for more than a year and that we are currently suffering from its most severe waves. EIPR also called on the government to take urgent action to double efforts made to provide maximum protection for medical staff, to accurately disclose the numbers of injuries and deaths among all workers in the health sector, and to provide fair financial compensation to their families in gratitude for their exceptional sacrifices at an exceptional moment.
Health workers are the front line in the fight against Covid-19, and they face the various risks of infection more than others. These risks include exposure to infection from patients, heavy workload for long hours, use of their personal protective equipment for extended periods of time, and facing violence and sometimes abuse by patients or their families without adequate protection.
The pandemic came under conditions that were not originally fair for workers in the health sector in Egypt: from severely poor wages, a health system that needs to be restructured and rebuilt, to a severe shortage of doctors, in light of the increasing emigration of health workers, especially physicians, from Egypt over the past decades in search of better working conditions and professional opportunities. Nevertheless, physicians and other workers in the health sector made significant sacrifices and showed heroics in the face of the epidemic under those circumstances and without complaining.
On the contrary, workers in the health sector have been subjected to security harassment and administrative abuse in some cases when they expressed their concern, declared their needs, or criticized the government's handling of the pandemic, despite all the difficult and unfair circumstances they have endured for more than a year without a break or interruption.
This continuous loss of physicians is a cause for great concern. While we may know the number of deaths among them, we do not know the number of morbidities among them, the number of deaths and morbidities among the rest of the health team members, including nurses, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, administrators, and others. It is striking and disturbing that the Ministry of Health has not announced, for more than half a year, documented numbers of morbidities and deaths among medical staff.
Instead of recognizing the crisis and trying to find solutions for it, the Minister of Health reduced the number of deaths among physicians due to the nature of their work, under the pretext that those who died in isolation hospitals, as she said, numbered only 115. The rest of them died as a result of what the minister called “a community infection” and not from their work in hospitals, which is an inaccurate statement for the following reasons:
Restricting physicians’ deaths due to Corona to isolation hospitals affiliated with the Ministry of Health excludes those working in other hospitals, such as chest and fever hospitals, that directly deal with Corona patients and who examine suspected cases, as well as exclude workers in the rest of the Ministry of Health hospitals, units and health departments in addition to the exclusion of physicians who work in the private sector, for which the Ministry is also responsible for technical, regulatory and preventive supervision.
The pandemic has now actually reached the stage of community infection. At this stage, it is difficult to determine the exact source of infection to which a single doctor is exposed. The monitoring and investigation procedures at that stage are unable to reach the cause or source of infection. Therefore the distinction between who was infected through work or the community is not accurate and impossible to prove.
The attempt to reduce the number of deaths among physicians, the secrecy with which the Ministry of Health deals with the numbers of infections and deaths among the rest of the medical staff, the lack of data, and the absence of transparency cannot help treat this crisis, but rather leads to a lack of confidence, whether on the part of the medical staff or citizens in the measures taken by the state, as well as the negative impact on the morale of the medical staff, which does not yet see a sufficient appreciation for their work or sacrifices.
In light of the above, the EIPR stresses several urgent demands to protect medical personnel and ensure minimum levels of their rights:
Transparency and provision of clear and accurate information to the community about infection and death rates among medical staff.
Disclosing the number of medical personnel who received the vaccination. With the languid pace of the vaccination campaign against Corona, the Ministry of Health must speed up the vaccination of all medical personnel to spare it more deaths and infections. According to the Doctors’ Syndicate estimates, only 10 to 20% of medical staff has been vaccinated.
Solving the crisis of defining the cause of death on the death certificates of physicians and other members of medical staff who died of Corona, as many of them died of the virus before or without a swab examination.
Forming an independent national committee, which includes the Doctors Syndicate and the rest of the medical unions, public health and infection control experts, and civil society representatives, to research and studies the causes of deaths and infections among medical staff, provided that this committee has all the necessary databases needed in its work, that it enjoys the freedom to work, and set a time frame for its work and produce a detailed report to the community and binding recommendations to the Ministry of Health.
With the increase in deaths among workers in the health sector due to the epidemic and an appreciation of their sacrifices, there were many and continuous demands that Corona victims among physicians (and other medical staff) be treated the same as victims of the army and the police in financial terms. The doctor Syndicate was at the top of those demanding this. However, this request has not yet been met.
The government has only ordered an increase in the value of the medical professions allowance for each category of those working at the Ministry of Health, to whom Law 14 of 2014 applies, the total increase being 525 pounds (1225 instead of 700) for physicians, and 375 pounds for dentists, pharmacists, veterinarians and physiotherapists (875 instead of 500), 340 pounds for higher nursing specialists, chemists, and physicists (790 instead of 450), and 300 pounds for nursing and health technician diplomas (700 instead of 400).
According to the Doctors Syndicate, the average net increase in the salary of non-university physicians according to this law is about 350 pounds, after deductions and a percentage deduction for the profession risk fund; The average net increase for physicians working in universities is about 875 pounds, after deductions and the deduction of the risk fund percentage.
The “Medical Professions Risks Compensation Fund” was established by Law 184 of 2020, whereby compensation is paid to the person with total or partial disability or to the family of the deceased as a result of practicing the profession (one-time compensation and not a monthly pension), unlike any other dues from insurances and pensions. However, most of the resources of this fund come from contributions from members of the medical profession themselves; so far, its board of directors has not met once, nor has it determined the amounts that will be disbursed as compensation, nor how the families of the victims will apply to obtain their dues.
The funding sources of the Medical Professions Risks Compensation Fund are divided into 5% of the total allowance for medical professions, 5% of the fees for licensing clinics, medical centers, scientific offices, laboratories, and private hospitals, 5% of the fees for practicing the profession and 5% of the honoraria of house officers, and donations or grants accepted by the Board of Directors that are consistent with the objectives of the Fund, in addition to the resources allocated by the state treasury for the benefit of the fund (without commitment to a specific percentage).
The Ministry of Health insists on including deaths and infections of medical personnel resulting from Corona during the performance of their work to the "Compensation Fund for the Risks of Medical Professions," instead of joining them to the category of beneficiaries of the fund designated for army and police victims, given that workers in the sector face exceptional risks as a result of their work during the epidemic. The Army and Police Victims Fund offers benefits that are not found in the Medical Professions Risk Fund. For example, the latter is limited to providing compensation once as a reward, unlike the Army and Police Victims Fund, which commits the state to a monthly pension, which has large resources in exchange for the limited resources of the medical risk fund.
On February 16, 2020, Farida Al-Bayadi, a member of Parliament, submitted a draft bill to amend some provisions of Law No. 16 of 2018, to include victims and infected members of the medical teams in the Army and Police Victims and Injuries Fund, and the Doctors Syndicate supported this proposal. EIPR expresses its support and endorsement of this amendment and calls on all parliamentarians to support it, and demands that it be quickly proposed and approved.
While affirming its deep appreciation for the sacrifices of physicians, nurses, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, administrators, and other workers in the health sector, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights urges the authorities to provide fair financial compensation to the families of the victims of the medical staff.