DEARBORN — More than 80 million people live in Egypt, but there is only one children's cancer hospital in the entire country.
On Sunday community members gathered at Habib's Cuisine here to learn more about how to support the hospital, which turns away four out of five children who seek its services because of bed shortages. The Children's Cancer Hospital of Egypt 57357, located in Cairo, was built only five years ago, and is the largest children's cancer hospital in the world.
The state of the art facility treats patients from as far as Syria and Pakistan, and is independent of all government aid and bureaucracies. But what makes the hospital unique is the fact that it was built solely by donations from Egyptians.
"The impressive thing is not how beautiful or clean the hospital is. The impressive thing is this hospital was built entirely for and by the people; by donations from Egyptian families," said Dr. Ola Elsaid, chapter executive of the Michigan Egypt Cancer Network (ECN). The hospital is run by a board of directors that makes its decisions.
According to Dr. Elsaid the average donation ranges from 17 to 20 pounds which amounts to two or three dollars. Even children were required to donate. Every child donated at least a pound, and every parent was asked to donate five or 10 pounds in addition to that.
Alhagga Zuhra, an Egyptian woman who came to the hospital one day, and was perceived to be a beggar by staff members, walked miles just to donate five pounds to the hospital. It took months for her to save up the money, and she expressed much excitement about her contribution.
The event was strictly informative, and hosted by the ECN Michigan. Guests were provided with details on how to donate to, and raise awareness about the hospital. The hospital's history dates back to the poor and unbearable conditions at the National Cancer Institute of Egypt during the eighties.
"The situation at the National Cancer Institute was unbearable. And for now it's still unbearable," Dr. Elsaid said. The mothers of children with cancer at the Institute would stay in the beds with patients. Photos presented by Dr. Elsaid showed the devastating conditions inside the Institute's packed waiting rooms. One doctor who was treating patients there had 13 out of 16 of them die in one night. After the incident he decided he didn't want to work in the medical field anymore.
At the Institute one physician used the same medical item on patients after re-washing it several times a day. Eventually a small group of concerned businessmen and physicians decided to do something to improve the conditions for cancer patients at the Institute. Each businessman donated 1 million pounds, and created the Association of Friends of the National Cancer Institute. Their mission was to improve the living conditions of cancer patients in Egypt. They decided to do that by upgrading cancer facilities and services, starting with the National Cancer Institute.
Following that they chose to create a specialized children's cancer hospital that didn't depend on the government, and provided children with free and equal access to healthcare.
"Things have always depended on the government until a group of physicians and government people said 'we would like to change this,' and decided to start this community hospital," Dr. Ola Elsaid said.
The hospital includes a school to ensure children continue to receive education services. Its land was donated by the government. The hospital is in high demand and can't service all the people who turn to it. An expansion is underway that will include a research center.
Currently there are no statistics on cancer patients in Egypt. There are 185 beds at the hospital, after the expansion is complete it will include 300. The ECN is funding the expansion through donations from its donors.
Dr. Elsaid and other guests became emotional when the story about a man who came to the hospital with a little girl who had cancer was told. The hospital had to turn the man away because there were no beds, then he went to the National Cancer Institute where he stood in line for hours, but couldn't get in either. He went back to the hospital and told them the child was now its responsibility, because he couldn't get treatment for her, and proceeded to set himself on fire.
"So this is the level of hopelessness people have gotten to," said Dr. Elsaid. Unfortunately, Egypt still does not have enough specialized cancer hospitals; a result of the long held belief that regular hospitals have sufficient resources to treat cancer patients, and no hospitals specializing in cancer are needed. Often children who couldn't make it to the National Cancer Institute died of cancer because there was no available treatment.
Dr. Elsaid is passionate about the cause because two members of her family were effected by it. One survived cancer, while the other was not as fortunate. In the United States and Egypt thousands of children are diagnosed with cancer every year, but there are about 200 children's cancer hospitals in the U.S. while Egypt has one. The hospital has a very advanced fundraising system. Instead of buying gifts for someone's birthday people have donated money to the hospital in the person's name. This is just one example of the many unique things people have done to donate to the hospital.
The hospital has garnered much support from all Egyptians including public figures in the country. "I believe that access to care should be a right and not a privilege, and every child with cancer should have access to care regardless of where they live," Dr. Ola Elsaid said. Children with cancer in Egypt are being denied care and treatment because of limited resources.
The ECN of Michigan needs your help now. To donate online visit www.egyptcancernetwork.org. The ECN is also seeking ideas and information on grants, if you have any email, info@EgyptCancerNetwork.org. Also remember to "like" the ECN on Facebook. Every chapter is having a fundraiser during Ramadan and the Michigan chapter's goal is to raise $50,000. This is a great way to fulfill your religious requirements during the holy month.
To become part of the fundraiser visit www.egyptcancernetwork.kintera.org/ramadan, and remember to donate to the Michigan chapter. For more information call 855-ECN-57357.