Cairo hospital only hope for poor children with cancer
Cairo - Nothing at the entrance to the Children’s Cancer Hospital in southern Cairo denotes its nature. With toys and dolls greeting visitors and colourful drawings decorating the alleyways leading to the main building, it looks more like the entrance to a nursery school than anything else.
Inside, there is a beehive of activity. Doctors and nurses move briskly from one room to another, carrying supplies, test tubes, X-ray files and medications. Phones never stop ringing. Parents and children go in and out.
With 320 beds and a high standard of medical care, the Children’s Cancer Hospital is often the only hope for thousands of poor children who are diagnosed with cancer in Egypt every year.
“Cancer is a costly disease to treat,” the hospital’s director, Sherif Abul-Naga, said. “This is why most of the children who come here will find it difficult to find treatment anywhere else.”
Children’s Cancer Hospital is known locally as the 57357 Hospital, which was the number of the bank account that accepted donations so the hospital could be built.
The hospital’s budget depends totally on donations. The government provided free plots of land for building hospital annexes, including a scientific research centre and a new area that will accommodate 350 more beds.
In the ten years since its opening, Children’s Cancer Hospital has treated and cured 17,000 children of different nationalities and backgrounds. The number represents a 74.8% survival rate of all patients admitted to the hospital.
The hospital’s immediate target is to improve the recovery rate to 85% of all cases admitted to match international recovery rates, Abul-Naga said, noting that the facility’s staff works tirelessly to achieve that goal.
High demand for cancer treatment is not restricted to Egyptian children; however, it is more apparent among them because more than 40% of the total population is under the age of 18.
“The international cancer incidence rate in children under 18 is 1 in every 330,” nanoscience researcher Mostafa el-Sayed said. “So this is a large number of new cases when we talk about 42% of the population.”
At the national level, there are 100,000 new cancer cases every year, said officials with the Egyptian Health Ministry, which allocates $53 million for cancer treatment.
In 2015, 500,000 Egyptians received free cancer treatment. However, thousands of others could not receive proper treatment, either because of the lack of space at the country’s medical facilities or because of the lack of funds.
“That is why we are working hard to increase the number of hospitals offering free cancer treatment and will try to allocate more funds in that regard,” Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed said.
Cancer treatment is offered almost for free at 17 hospitals but high demand for treatment causes an acute shortage of space. The establishment of new cancer hospitals is turning into a national project with fundraising campaigns filling the streets and airwaves.
The Health Ministry said it was seeking to build a cancer treatment facility in each of Egypt’s 27 provinces to save citizens the trouble of travelling to Cairo to receive treatment. Fundraising campaigns are under way for the construction of a cancer hospital in the southern province of Aswan and another in the outskirts of Cairo.
The Children’s Cancer Hospital remains a bright example of cancer treatment management in Egypt. Of the hospital’s 6,500 workers, 4,500 are volunteers.
Schoolteacher Ahmed Abdel Monem goes to the hospital once a week to teach mathematics to child patients.
“I cannot describe the joy the children fill me with every time I go to them,” Abdel Monem said. “We need to stand by these children and make them feel that they are not alone.”
The hospital offers treatment to children from Arab and African states for a symbolic fee.
“We treat all children on equal footing, regardless of who they are,” Abul-Naga said. “Cancer is a dangerous disease but it becomes easier to treat when you consider everyone coming to this hospital a member of your family.”