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.”


Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

Updated 21 November 2019

Camel herding in Western Sahara a passion with pedigree

  • In the Western Sahara, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing
  • "Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” says herder

DAKHLA, Western Sahara: In the Oued Eddahab desert in Western Sahara, Habiboullah Dlimi raises dairy and racing camels just like his ancestors used to — but with a little help from modern technology.
His animals roam free in the desert and are milked as camels always have been, by hand, at dawn and dusk.
When camels “feed on wild plants and walk all day, the milk is much better,” said the 59-year-old herder, rhapsodizing about the benefits of the nutrient-rich drink, known as the “source of life” for nomads.
But Dlimi no longer lives with his flock.
He lives in town with his family. His camels are watched over by hired herders and Dlimi follows GPS coordinates across the desert in a 4X4 vehicle to reach them.
He is reticent when asked about the size of his herd. “That would bring bad luck,” he said.
He prefers to speak of the gentleness and friendliness of the animals he knows like his own children.
“Camels can endure everything: sun, wind, sand and lack of water, and if they could talk, you’d easily hear how intelligent they are,” he said.

A camel is silhouetted against the sunset in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


"The desert knows me"
Dlimi comes from a long line of desert dwellers from the Ouled Dlimi tribe.
As tradition dictates, he lists his ancestors going back five generations when introducing himself.
“I know the desert and the desert knows me,” he said.
Like elsewhere, the nomads of Western Sahara are settling, following a shift from rural to urban living.
“Young people prefer to stay in town,” Dlimi said, and herders now mostly come from neighboring Mauritania, whose desert north is traversed by caravans of up to a thousand camels.
Even they “often demand to work in areas covered by (mobile phone) network signal,” he added.
The population of the nearby town of Dakhla has tripled to 100,000 in 20 years, with growth driven by fishing, tourism and greenhouse farming encouraged by Morocco.
In this part of Western Sahara, development projects depend entirely on Rabat.
Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the former Spanish colony since the 1970s and wants to maintain it as an autonomous territory under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front movement fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations has been trying to negotiate a political compromise for decades.
Like many in his tribe, Dlimi has family members on the other side of the Western Sahara Wall separating the Moroccan controlled areas from the Polisario controlled areas.
He favors loyalty to Morocco while others back independence, he said.
Tribal affiliation trumps politics, though.
“Tribes are tribes, it’s a social organization,” he said. “There are very strong links between us.”
To “preserve the past for the future,” Dlimi started a cultural association to conserve traditions from a time when there were no borders and “families followed the herds and the clouds.”

A camel herder guides his flock in the desert near Dakhla in Morocco-administered Western Sahara on Oct. 13, 2019. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)


The irony
While Dlimi loves the desert, he does have one complaint: “The camel dairy industry is valued everywhere in the world except here.”
Camel milk is trendy with health-conscious consumers and the lean meat is excellent, Dlimi claims.
Today though, it is small livestock farming that is the main agricultural focus, in response to what non-nomadic Moroccans tend to eat.
The 266,000 square kilometers (106,400 square miles) of Western Sahara under Moroccan control hosts some 6,000 herders, 105,000 camels, and 560,000 sheep and goats, according to figures from Rabat.
In other arid countries, including Saudi Arabia, intensive farming of camels has taken off.
But, while Moroccan authorities have undertaken several studies into developing Western Sahara’s camel industry, these have not so far been acted upon.
Regardless, a local adage holds that he who has no camel, has nothing.
“Some say that Saharans are crazy because when they have money they spend it on four feet,” Dlimi jokes.
For him, 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) spent on a camel is a safe investment.
But it is also a consuming passion.
His Facebook page and WhatsApp messages are filled with talk of camel husbandry techniques, research and racing.
Racing “is a pleasure and it pays,” Dlimi said.
Since the United Arab Emirates funded construction of a camel racing track at Tantan, 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the north, racing animals have appreciated in value and can sell for up to 120,000 dirhams, according to Dlimi.
To train his racing camels, Dlimi chases the young animals across the desert in his 4X4.
The technique has made him an eight-time champion in national competitions, he said.
But camels can be stubborn, Dlimi stressed, telling of how he once sold his best champion for a “very good price,” but the animal refused to race once it had changed hands.