Cairo hospital only hope for poor children with cancer

Sunday 12/02/2017
A largely volunteer medical staff entertains a patient at Cairo’s Children Cancer Hospital.

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.”