Struggling to heal: Egypt’s health initiatives in the face of health burdens

Struggling to heal: Egypt’s health initiatives in the face of health burdens

Despite numerous health burdens, many of which intensified due to Covid-19, Egypt is dedicated to improving its healthcare system – and it has made progress in modernisation, quality, access and reach 

One common fundamental principle that drives healthcare systems globally is the aim to offer affordable and high-quality health care. However, providing this access has become increasingly difficult due to various factors, including the evolving nature of disease epidemiology, the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, population ageing, and the rising costs associated with innovative diagnoses and treatments. Healthcare systems are faced with delivering optimal care while also ensuring the long-term sustainability of their systems.

The challenges have become more intense due to Covid-19, which has escalated the difficulties faced by governments and healthcare systems. They have had to allocate substantial resources to combating the pandemic, leading to gaps in providing vital healthcare services for other diseases. Numerous diseases that were already high priorities have suffered from neglect, inadequate funding and insufficient supplies as a result of the pandemic. Consequently, the health workforce has been overwhelmed while trying to address these neglected diseases.

Now is a moment to reflect on the lessons learned from the pandemic and to look to the future challenges that may affect vulnerable groups, particularly older individuals and aged populations who often have multiple chronic and complex health conditions, which necessitate more frequent and costly interventions. As a result, there will be increased demand for healthcare services and resources, while a decrease in qualified health workers and caregivers is anticipated. Growing elderly populations strain healthcare resources, and call for necessary changes in healthcare policies and practices.

21st-century systems

In addition, healthcare systems in the 21st century confront a range of critical challenges, including financing, recruitment and retention, and digitalisation. Financing is a major concern due to the escalating healthcare costs that outpace economic growth. There is a significant discrepancy between rising demand and limited access to quality services. Providing universal coverage and delivering quality care become arduous tasks for many countries. Equally important is the issue of recruitment and retention: there exists a shortage of competent and motivated health professionals, particularly in rural and remote regions. Moreover, burnout, stress and low morale plague numerous practitioners in the field. And digitalisation poses yet another challenge that necessitates investment in new technologies, data systems and cybersecurity measures. These advances are crucial for enhancing efficiency, effectiveness and patient outcomes, while adapting to evolving consumer expectations as well as regulatory frameworks.

To tackle these challenges effectively, development goals have served as the inspiration for nearly 100 global health initiatives over the past two decades. These initiatives involve public-private partnerships and international cooperation among governments, international organisations and civil society. Their objective is to combat the spread of diseases, enhance healthcare systems, address imbalances and expedite progress towards achieving those goals.

In recent years, Egypt has achieved significant progress in its healthcare system. It has been actively working towards achieving universal health coverage, implementing early detection and mass screening programmes, and devising a forward-thinking blueprint for its healthcare system.

Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population has introduced a groundbreaking health service package called the 100 Million Healthy Lives initiatives under a robust presidential plan. The services provided by these initiatives cover the entire life journey, starting from prenatal care to neonatal, childhood, adulthood and geriatric stages. This innovative approach represents a new way to address public health, considering various factors that influence individual and community well-being. The aim is to enhance population health indicators by tackling both individual and community risk factors. These initiatives save lives, and also help reduce the long-term healthcare and economic burdens. By prioritising such efforts, Egypt is making remarkable strides in lowering rates of illness and death, ultimately resulting in improved overall health and well-being for its citizens. 

The main goal is to improve various health indicators such as malnutrition, disability, morbidity and mortality rates. In under five years, these initiatives have provided over 130 million services to more than 90 million Egyptians and non-Egyptians, including migrants and refugees. Services encompass screening, early detection and treatment for various health conditions such as hepatitis C, anaemia, obesity and stunting, as well as cancer (such as liver, breast, lung, colorectal, cervical and prostate cancer). Additionally, initiatives address genetic and hereditary diseases along with vertically and sexually transmitted diseases. They also aim to tackle non-communicable diseases including diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidaemia and renal impairment, alongside neonatal hearing impairment. The collective efforts of various concentrated public health interventions have resulted in the elimination of hepatitis C and a substantial reduction in maternal and neonatal mortality rates, as well as mortality rates for children under one and under five. Additionally, there has been a notable improvement in malnutrition indicators, particularly among school children. The rates of early detection for cancer cases have also improved significantly. These achievements have further contributed to an increase in healthy life expectancy at birth from an average of 61.2 years in 2000 to an average of 63 years in 2019.

Ambitious initiatives

These ambitious unprecedented initiatives were aligned with the national health strategies aiming for universal health coverage, expanded primary health care, enhanced prevention, preparedness and response for health security, and improved health equity, governance, leadership and accountability.

Egypt’s journey towards achieving universal health coverage highlights its commitment to ensuring equitable access to quality healthcare services for all citizens. By investing in infrastructure development, expanding health insurance programmes, emphasising primary care services and improving quality standards within the sector, full implementation is expected to cover all the Egyptian governorates by 2030.

In recognising that strong primary health care is essential for efficient, cost-effective service delivery, Egypt has focused on expanding primary care centres throughout the country, including more than 5,000 such centres. This approach ensures that preventive measures are prioritised while reducing reliance on costly tertiary care institutions for basic medical needs.

With regards to health security, Egypt is adopting proactive measures such as establishing surveillance systems, public awareness campaigns and strengthening healthcare infrastructure capacity while engaging with international partners for effectively managing future health crises. 

Enhancing health equity requires a multidimensional approach that addresses governance, leadership and accountability in healthcare systems. Researchers can contribute significantly by identifying barriers and proposing evidence-based strategies for achieving equitable access to quality care. By collaborating with stakeholders and advocating for policy changes based on their findings, researchers actively contribute to building more equitable healthcare systems worldwide.

Access to quality care

Despite numerous health burdens, Egypt has shown commendable dedication to improving its healthcare system. Through initiatives focused on expanding healthcare infrastructure, disease prevention, maternal and child health, universal health coverage and mental health support, Egypt is striving to ensure that its citizens have access to quality healthcare services and that the country achieves long-term success in improving the country’s overall health outcomes.