Child cancer hospital investigation sends shockwaves through Egypt

Updated 17 July 2018

Child cancer hospital investigation sends shockwaves through Egypt

  • The hospital receives donations of up to 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($5.6 million) every year, but it pays no more than 160.2 million for the treatment of the children annually
  • Many have questioned the legality of the gag order, given that such directives are usually issued by Egypt’s public prosecutor

CAIRO: With its modernist glass buildings shining over the Cairo skyline and pioneering medical practices admired around the world, Egypt’s leading child cancer hospital had become a source of national pride.
But more than 10 years since the institution was founded on a wave of goodwill, the hospital has become embroiled in a public slanging match that threatens to tarnish its reputation.
Named 57375 after the bank account number set up to accept donations, the hospital was built from and operated by financial contributions from the public, wowed by an impressive fundraising campaign.
Since its establishment in 2007, it has been cited as an exemplary institution in terms of treatment and professionalism, with its round-the-clock efforts to host more and more cancer-stricken children earning wide acclaim.
But last month, Wahid Hamed, one of Egypt’s most famous screenwriters, launched a scathing attack on the hospital’s director Sherif Abu El-Naga.
In a series of columns in the privately-owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, Hamed hurled many accusations against Abu El-Naga, including mishandling of the hospital’s finances and placing his own relatives in key positions.
Hamed said that his shocking columns aimed to “stir up a hornet’s nest at the hospital.”
“The hospital receives donations of up to 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($5.6 million) every year, but it pays no more than 160.2 million for the treatment of the children annually,” Hamed wrote in one of his columns.
He also said that the hospital’s leading officials received hefty salaries, which were not compatible with a charitable institution, and questioned its policy of spending “hundreds of millions of pounds” on television ads.
Hamed was known for his anti-government views in the 1990s when corruption was rampant but is now widely viewed as a pro-state figure.
Abu El-Naga has largely remained tight-lipped, but the hospital issued a statement saying it had examined its own records and found that the accusations were “utterly false and confuse public opinion.”
The hospital hired outspoken lawyer Mortada Mansour, who is also the chairman of Cairo’s popular sports club Zamalek, to defend its interests.
As a result of the allegations, the social solidary ministry launched an investigation into any possible corruption at the hospital.
The Supreme Council for Media Regulation, a regulatory body, imposed a gag order on publishing any news on the matter until the investigation has concluded.
Many have questioned the legality of the gag order, given that such directives are usually issued by Egypt’s public prosecutor.
The 57357 hospital has always boasted of a recovery rate of more than 70 percent, but critics said that this has been mainly down to what they call the hospital’s unjustified policy of only agreeing to treat cases that are not at an advanced stage.
The latest accusations have divided opinions, sparking fierce debate on social media.
“My baby girl was treated at this hospital three years ago. Everything was perfect, literally everything. A five-star service and we paid nothing at all,” Karima El-Sawy, a 32-year-old housewife, told Arab News.
“My girl was 100 PER CENT percent cured, thank God. This is mainly down to the professionalism of this hospital. I don’t know how anyone can attack it that way without providing a single piece of evidence for their claims.”
El-Sawy said that there were many corrupt institutions in the country that could be attacked, but instead people had gone after the one that has always been viewed “as an example to follow.”
When contacted by Arab News, most of the parents whose children had been treated at 57375 spoke positively of the hospital, voicing very few reservations about how it operated.
But others called for more government oversight of the hospital.
“I do not doubt the integrity of the hospital officials, but any such institution must be supervised — not managed — by the state,” said Gamal Akram, a 27-year-old whose young brother was treated at the hospital last year.
“It’s the money of the people at the end, so we must know how they spend it. It’s totally our right; there is nothing wrong with that.”

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2020

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.