Snakes in a Hospital

snakes

Where is the last place you would want to find a stray animal? They can be quite unsanitary, and you probably wouldn’t want one to come into your house. Now, imagine if that stray animal were a venomous snake like a python. That wouldn’t just be unsanitary; if you ran into that, it could result in a trip to the hospital, stat.

But what if you found another python in the hospital?

It sounds ridiculous. Many people in the Western world worry about catching a bug in a hospital ward where there may be lots of other sick people, but we would never think about finding wild and deadly animals like snakes there. Patients in Egyptian state-run hospitals, however, do not seem to be so lucky. Incredibly, if you were an Egyptian hospital patient, there is a real possibility that you might encounter a whole group of snakes, not just one. Sadly this is not a joke.

Snakes, stray cats, stray dogs, goats, and even owls – all of these, along with some truly shockingly unsanitary conditions, have been documented in the online photo album of a group on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lawgehnosurprise). According to The Economist (www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21654659-dirty-sheets-and-stray-cats?fsrc=scn/fb/wl/pe/st/dirtysheets), on June 6th Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab visited a pair of Egyptian state-run hospitals and was appalled by what he saw. The Facebook group was set up in response to this in an attempt to reveal the true state of public hospitals in Egypt – something of which the government had either been ignorant or unbothered.

Photos depict floors and walls covered in filth, herds of stray cats roaming between patients’ beds in wards, sheep wandering through a clinic’s front entrance; meanwhile, comments by doctors, nurses, and other employees describe the anguish, depression, and even thoughts of suicide caused by the conditions. Some of the pictures are gruesome. Perhaps the most memorable photo shows an old man with a walking stick in a hospital ward looking down at three snakes on the floor in front of him.

I suspect that there are no statistics for the number of snake bites received in hospitals. However, we do know that Egypt has the highest prevalence of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the world (www.hcvadvocate.org/hcsp/articles/egypt_06.html), with some figures putting it as high as 20% of the population (www.researchgate.net/post/why_does_egypt_have_15-20_prevalence_of_HCV). HCV is a leading cause of chronic liver disease, and, since the complications of HCV occur about twenty years after the initial infection, the worst is yet to come (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16628669). The rates of other infamous hospital ‘superbugs’ such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are also worryingly high (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24815332).

The common denominator for all these problems in hospital wards, from the presence of wild animals to that of infectious diseases, is poor sanitation. This is itself a symptom of a lack of investment in basic infrastructure: the government is not paying to have the hospitals cleaned, supplied or overseen properly. If major hospitals are in such a state, then imagine what primary healthcare in local clinics is like. Often, particularly in rural areas, there are no clinics at all.

Of course, for those who can afford to pay, there are more possibilities, like private or foreign healthcare. Obviously these are not available to the majority of Egyptian society, however, for whom the best option may be an occasional visit to a clinic served by a charitable organisation such as the CCRF. Egypt must begin to take its responsibility to its people’s wellbeing seriously and to realise that society’s problems cannot simply be ignored – such conditions contribute much more to unrest and instability than terrorism ever could.

Egypt’s doctors, nurses and surgeons do their duty in difficult circumstances. However, they need whatever help they can get. Non-profits such as ours cannot fix the entire Egyptian medical system, but if we can help improve even a few people’s lives then we will have made a big difference. It is up to us to do whatever we can.

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