Limiting State-Funded Treatment to Six Illnesses Threatens Patients’ Lives...Minister’s Office and Specialized Medical Councils: We Know Nothing About this Decree

Press Release

30 March 2010

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights warned today that the lives of patients receiving treatment at state expense were under threat after the state-owned al-Ahram reported yesterday, 29 March, that the Minister of Health had issued a decree to limit state-funded treatment to six illnesses: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high-blood pressure, renal failure, and Hepatitis C patients receiving interferon.

Quoting Minister of Health Hatem al-Gabali, al-Ahram reported that the minister had announced the decree in a meeting with the Health Committee of the Shura Council following a request for discussion filed by MP Mohamed Allam (NDP). According to al-Ahram, the minister warned of the collapse of health services in Egypt, noting that LE10 billion in state funds was spent this year on treatment. The minister, who was accused by MPs of “punishing citizens because of the corruption of a few,” added that the solution was to pass the new health insurance bill, and he proposed increasing citizens’ insurance premiums.

Dr. Alaa Ghannam, the director of the Right to Health Program at the EIPR, said, “There are several ways to manage state-funded treatment, all of which should be aimed at regulating the service, not reducing it. One way is to clearly define the social groups eligible for treatment — the people for whom Presidential Decree 691/1975 on state-funded treatment was originally issued.”

The EIPR was also confused by statements from the office of Dr. Emad Ezzat, the director of the minister’s office and the ministry’s legal department, as well as statements from the Specialized Medical Councils, which are responsible for administering the state-funded treatment program. All officials in these offices said they had no knowledge of any decree or instructions to limit treatment to the six illnesses mentioned in the news report. In telephone interviews yesterday, staff in these offices told EIPR researchers that no official decree had been issued limiting treatment to the named illnesses.

The EIPR is extremely concerned about the secretive, non-transparent way in which the ministry crafts and implements public policy, and it cautioned that the minister’s statements could be a trial balloon designed to test public opinion as a prelude to cutting down on state-funded treatment, which would be a flagrant violation of the right to health and the right to life.

“We agree with the minister that the solution lies in the passage of a universal health insurance bill, but this talk about increasing citizens’ premiums shows that the state is shirking its responsibility to protect the right to health and the right to life,” Dr. Alaa Ghannam said. “Moreover, such decisions are biased against the poor, especially when we consider that citizens pay nearly 68% of total health expenditure out of their own pockets. What is happening now indicates that the state wants to totally remove itself, even though it does not spend enough on public health as it is and its administration of health services is improvisational and arbitrary, as is evident from the decree limiting state-funded treatment to six illnesses.”