Egypt's top medical union on Monday warned of a "complete collapse" of the country's health system, accusing the health ministry of negligence in failing to protect health care workers from the coronavirus.
"The syndicate is warning that the health system could completely collapse, leading to a catastrophe affecting the entire country if the health ministry's negligence and lack of action toward medical staff is not rectified," the Egyptian Medical Syndicate (EMS) said in a statement.
COVID-19 has killed 19 doctors and infected more than 350, according to the EMS, a body representing thousands of Egyptian doctors.
"The EMS holds the health ministry entirely responsible for the mounting deaths and infections among doctors due to its negligence ... that is tantamount to death through a dereliction of duty," it added.
Egypt, the most populous Arab country, has recorded more than 16,000 COVID-19 cases and over 700 deaths.
The EMS called on the "executive, judicial and legislative" branches of government to force the health ministry to comply with its demands. These included providing all doctors with personal protective equipment (PPE), training for dealing with coronavirus cases and testing for those with symptoms or who have come into contact with infected people.
Hospitals have been hit by a flight of doctors abroad in recent years while the frontline staff left behind face shortages of medical supplies and protective gear that heightens the risk of infection.
The EMS statement came after 32-year-old doctor Walid Yehia died on Saturday after being unable to secure a bed in an isolation hospital.
The country's 17 isolation hospitals reserved for coronavirus patients reached their maximum capacity at the start of the month, Deputy Health Minister Ahmed al-Sobki told local press last week.
A colleague resigned in protest from the same Cairo hospital where Yehia worked. In a widely shared online post, the co-worker blamed the health ministry for not treating Yehia as soon as he showed symptoms of the virus.
In recent weeks Egypt has sent medical aid to countries including China, Italy and the United States, angering many medical professionals, who complain about the lack of PPE domestically.
"The health ministry has an obligation toward doctors and all medics who are sacrificing their lives on the frontlines to defend the safety of the homeland," the EMS said. "It is imperative to provide them with the necessary protection and rapid medical intervention for those who contract the disease."
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