Sickness profiteering: The Egyptian regime is making money out of the pandemic

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The corona pandemic came as a test for governments worldwide. Some of these governments prioritised saving their people’s lives at the expense of finance and the economy. These are the ones that took extreme precautionary procedures to decrease the rate of infection and support their people with all the money they could give. Other governments prioritised the economy over people’s lives and left them facing death to keep the ongoing flow of their profits. Al-Sisi’s regime’s unique response, however, was to take advantage of the pandemic to gain economic profits.

During the past several weeks, the Egyptian Society of Laboratory Medicine (ESLM) revealed that the Ministry of Health has assigned a coronavirus swabs service to a private chain of labs called Speed Lab affiliated to the Prime Holding Company, under the approval of the Supreme Council of University Hospitals. ESLM explained that such a procedure is a violation of the constitution, which binds the state to provide a non-profit healthcare service to all citizens, besides its violation of the law by assigning the service to that company by direct order. In addition, the company’s acquisition of the cases’ numbers and data is considered a threat to national security.

In her letter to Dr. Hussein Khairy, the Head of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, Dr. Suheir Helal, the president of the Society and a clinical pathology professor at Qasr el-Ainy University, wondered whether this start-up company has enough experience to perform such tests and enquired about the scientific control over the methods of sampling, the infection control measures, and its teams’ qualifications and training. She also expressed her concerns about this decision and her reservation to what the government did.

The Egyptian Society of Laboratory Medicine was founded in 1989 and has more than 400 clinical pathology professor members. Its main mission is to monitor laboratory medicine and its advancements and to develop it in Egypt in line with the global progress made in that field. The society issues a scientific periodical journal that publishes the recent laboratory research and it holds an annual conference attended by more than 1,000 people of the same profession, both from inside and outside Egypt.

Speed Lab laboratories are affiliated to Speed Medical Corporation, a public company that was founded in December 2015 and was enlisted in the Egyptian Stock Market since March 2019, which means that they are start-up laboratories that do not have enough experience to handle such procedures.

A source within the company revealed to Egypt Watch that the company does not have the equipment nor the kits necessary for the coronavirus PCR. The company managed to sign a contract with the Egyptian government for the purpose of setting aside a portion of its kits for the private sector, where it can provide them to whoever can pay the price. The price for a single swab ranged between EGP 2,000-5,000, which is more than double the minimum wage.

Another source within Ain Shams Specialised Hospital, a hospital under Ain Shams University, revealed to Egypt Watch that the hospital has contracted Speed Medical, the owner of Speed Lab Chain, to perform the coronavirus tests for anyone who can pay.

At the same time, a source within the Ministry of Health told Egypt Watch that this step was taken in anticipation of other procedures that will be taken by the state afterwards to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It is expected that the countries will require the passengers to carry out medical tests and swabs to ensure the passenger is not infected with the virus, which, in turn, will require the private sector’s help. The source added that the ministry will allow some hospitals, laboratories, and medical companies to provide this service later on.

Over the past two months, the government has assigned several services directly to Speed Medical headed by Mahmoud Lasheen, the former owner of Cleopatra Hospital. Of these services are the drive through service for virus swabs at petrol stations, and home swabs.

The effect of these steps became rapidly apparent on the financial performance of the company whose shares topped the Nile Stock Exchange at the beginning of this month. The company also announced its acquisition of six laboratories, three of which – el-Safwa, el-Dakhakhny and City labs – it already possesses.

A source within the Medical Syndicate indicated that the events taking place concerning coronavirus medical tests are full-blown profiteering of the pandemic and a violation of the constitution that guaranteed the provision of medical treatment for all citizens for free.

Also, the Ministry of Health’s current protocols regarding performing medical swabs for those suspected of being infected with the virus is aimed at greatly lowering the number of free swabs. This indicates that whoever set these protocols in motion intends to leave the citizens no choice but to resort to the private sector to be tested for a large sum of money.

The source explained that the Ministry of Health’s instructions implemented as a protocol for performing the swab is for the swab to be carried out for the hospitalised cases only, which constitutes a very small percentage of the cases, and not for those in contact with a definite positive case.