Medical Emergencies in Egypt
Travelers are always worried about medical emergencies they might face in a foreign country. Such worry is always exaggerated when the destination is to a non-Western country. These are usually exaggerated by a false image some people have in their mind about Egypt.
Apart from the historical background of medicine during the ancient and middle ages, medical practice in Egypt has always enjoyed a good reputation in the modern era. Numerous physicians graduating from Egyptian faculties of medicine have a high standard of knowledge worldwide. Students from all over the Arab countries and Africa come to learn medicine, on both under and postgraduate levels. One of the best examples of Egyptian physicians is Sir Magdy Yacoub, the famous cardiac surgeon who graduated from Cairo University. Sir Magdy is currently practicing in UK, and was the first non-British to be knighted by the Queen of England.
The major worry of a visitor is his need for hospitalization in case of an accident or emergency. Modern hospitals are abundant all over the country, both in governmental and private sectors. Governmental hospitals in general, and university hospitals in particular, enjoy a high standard of modern equipment and efficient staff members. On the other hand, numerous private practices are not inferior, with some of them quite near to Western standards. These are also supported by the vast clinical and academic experience of university staff members, who work there as part-timers. In deserted places were medical facilities might be lagging; a major medical emergency is supported by the government. Frequently victims are transported from the scene of a major accident by helicopter to highly specialized centers in Cairo.
Hospitalization in most general hospitals, particularly in emergencies, are free of charge. However, a visitor is always advised to seek a private one, which are still strictly supervised by the health authorities. Hospital charges vary according to different standards, but in general the cost is much less than one would expect at home. It is illegal for a private hospital to reject or transfer any emergency case for financial reasons.
Once a patient is admitted to a private hospital in Egypt, a professor or consultant is immediately assigned to handle the case. The physician is fully responsible for his patient throughout the hospital stay, and is also responsible for coordination with any other colleague of different specialty, if needed.
The choice of the hospital and the consultant in charge might be confusing to a visitor. It is advised to leave this choice to the hotel physician. Most hotels have a resident junior doctor, or at least quick access to several consultants, who can be reached any time through mobile (cellular) phones. Also, embassies usually have contracts with physicians. Contacting the embassy is advised, as its personnel might also review the hospital charges.
In less severe conditions, when a guest needs medical attention beyond the capacity of the hotel physician, he would be directed to private clinics or polyclinics. Almost all physicians run private practices off office hours. Sometimes an appointment is required beforehand, but usually the physician would be very considerate. Consultation fees are variable, with the most expensive being for university staff members. A professor would charge between 100-150 L.E. (1 $US = 3.4 L.E. average) in Cairo. Consultants and specialists (ministry of health physicians) charge less, and prices are less in other cities. Another source to seek consultation are hospitals. A visitor is advised to avoid public ones, and head for the private.
Another worry for a visitor would be his medication, whether regular or incidental ones. Since most international pharmaceutical companies have offices in Egypt practically no drug is unavailable. However a visitor is always advised to carry on him any medicine he regularly uses. Owing to the variability of trade names between different countries, one should not expect his medicine to be labeled the same as he uses it back home. A record of the generic name of the drug is sometimes required. Since most commonly needed medication (as heart medicine and Insulin) have the same trade name worldwide, the problem is rarely encountered. However, some anti-hypertensives might have different names. A qualified pharmacist is always available in his pharmacy (drug store) for help, with no extra fees for this service. All drugs have fixed prices by the government. One only pays what is labeled on the box.
There are no custom restrictions for medication. Moreover, on the occasion of unexpected consumption or loss of the drug, a visitor can enjoy one of the pitfalls of the system. Drugs are available in pharmacies without the strict need of a prescription, except in hypnotics and narcotics. Pharmacies are abundant everywhere. They are easily spotted by the sign of a red crescent, sometimes with a red cross inside.
Visitors are advised to avoid consumption of certain types of food. Though tap water in Egypt is drinkable, foreigners are advised to use bottled water. The amount of minerals and the degree of water hardness vary among different countries, and diarrhea might result. Mineral water is available everywhere, and a one liter bottle is around 1.50 L.E. (less than $US ).
During a Nile cruise, one should avoid the temptation of the traditional saying "whoever drinks the Nile water is sure come back again". The Nile is a habitat of a certain parasite named "Bilharzia" or "Shistosoma". One of the stages of its life cycle may be transmitted to human through direct drinking or swimming in the Nile, particularly near the shore, and causes a serious chronic disease. One can enjoy the legend by drinking a small gulp of tap water, which initially comes from the Nile after purification.
All restaurants licensed to serve food are strictly supervised by the health authorities. However, one should be aware that certain types of traditional food (especially if invited to a house in the countryside) are of a high fatty component. Over consumption of those might lead to diarrhea.
Smoking "sheesha" is fairly popular among low classes, and has recently become a fashion to be served in touristic places for fun. Though the amount of tobacco-like material at such places is usually very mild, one has to keep in mind that he is smoking without a filter. Never forget to use a disposable plastic mouthpiece.
Hopefully, your visit will be fulfilled without any trouble. In case of any mis-happening, always remember that a guest in Egypt is treated like a V.I.P. People are always very happy when asked for help, and even volunteer to do so.
Wishing you a happy and enjoyable visit.
Picture: Dar el-Fouad (Heart House). One of the recently built hospitals in "Sixth of October City" 32 Km from Cairo center (very close to the Giza Pyramids).
Budget and Independent Travel to Egypt - Part I By Jimmy Dunn
Historical Hotels in Egypt - Part I By Jimmy Dunn
Editor's Commentary By Jimmy Dunn
Ancient Beauty Secrets By Judith Illes
Book Reviews Various Editors
Kid's Corner By Margo Wayman
Cooking with Tour Egypt By Mary K Radnich
Hotel Reviews By Juergen Stryjak
Egyptian Exhibitions By deTraci Regula
Nightlife Various Editors
Restaurant Reviews Various Editors
Shopping Around By Juergen Stryjak
Egyptian View-Point By Adel Murad
Medical Advice in Egypt By Dr. Sameh Arab, M.D.