Coronavirus epidemic exposes Egypt’s poor health system

“Pandemics don’t destroy societies, but they do expose their weaknesses… coronavirus has exposed the effects of successive budgetary cuts on the National Health Service, leaving the health service under-resourced and ill-equipped to cope with a pandemic.” This is what British public health activist Diarmaid McDonald told the Guardian newspaper, stressing that coronavirus has highlighted the fatal weakness of the health system in his country. Although these words were written in the context of criticising the British government, they are surprisingly applicable to the situation in Egypt. It can be pointed out in this regard that the performance of the Egyptian government declined in the health index by about five places, as it became 104th out of 141 countries around the world, registering 65 points out of 100, according to the Global Competitiveness Index.

According to official reports, as of Thursday, Egypt had registered 256 cases of coronavirus and seven deaths, while 26 people had recovered from the virus. But the Egyptian government faces accusations of obfuscating the true figures of infection as international reports indicate that the figures exceed several thousand. Last July press reports stated that the Egyptian government violated the Egyptian constitution by reducing spending on health and education to less than the constitutional ratio. A report issued by the International Monetary Fund confirmed that the health and education sector did not benefit from the economic reform programme that aimed to improve the performance of service sectors during the past years. In a recent report, “Egyptian Economy Observatory July 2019,” the World Bank stated that health care and education allocations have decreased in the Egyptian budget. Education spending declined from 3.6 per cent of the GDP in 2016 to 2.5 per cent in 2018, to 2.2 per cent in the new budget.

The 2014 constitution in Egypt stipulates in Article 18 that “the state shall commit to allocating a percentage of government spending to health not less than three per cent of the gross national product, which will gradually increase until it is in line with international rates.” In exchange for reducing spending on health and education, the Egyptian regime increased spending on the army and armament. Since al-Sisi came to power in mid-2014, Egypt has spent billions of US dollars on arms deals, placing it third in the world among the largest arms importers between 2014 and 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Because of these deals, Global Fire Power, a global website specialising in military affairs for countries, said in its annual ranking for this year that the Egyptian army is among the 10 strongest armies of this year. The Egyptian army achieved a leap in its classification from 12th place globally to ninth, and regionally, from second to first place. Thus, it surpassed large armies in the world, including the Turkish army, which fell to 11th place, after it was ranked ninth in the world and first in the Middle East region, according to the site. It also outperformed the Iranian army, which came in 14th, and the Israeli army, which ranked 18th in the annual classification for 2020.

Opponents say the Egyptian regime has increased spending on the military to ensure its loyalty and ability to suppress dissent and any possible protests. This increased spending on the army came despite the fact that during the past three years, Egyptians suffered from a crisis that doubled the price of medicine due to the decision to float the pound in November 2016, which weakened the purchasing power of many segments of the local community. Observers point out that the suffering of the Egyptians due to economic decisions required an increase in spending on health and education, at least to reach the constitutional ratios stipulated.