Some 100,000 people get burned yearly in Egypt, and only a few manage to afford the care needed to survive, according to the Ahl Masr Foundation. The numbers are harrowing, the mortality rate of burn victims in Egypt is as high as 37%, compared to the average of 5% in other countries in the region. Moreover, the majority who do survive find it hard to carry on with their daily activities due to their physical disfigurement and physiological trauma.
Ahl Masr Foundation is tackling the issue with its plan to build a non-profit hospital fully dedicated to burn cases.
by Ahmed Mansour
Ahl Masr was founded by Heba El-Sewedy, a prominent philanthropist hailing from the El-Sewedy family, Egypt’s cable industry magnates. Known as the “Mother of the Revolution” and “Egypt’s Mother Teresa,” El-Sewedy donated enormous amounts of money to the injured in the January 25 Revolution and continues to support charitable causes. Her new planned hospital, to be inaugurated in mid-2016, is set to become the first and the biggest burn hospital in the region.
The total area planned for the hospital is 24,000 sqm in New Cairo. The hospital not only provides comprehensive medical services to the burn victims, but also psychiatric treatment, outreach programs and social rehabilitation.
While Ahl Masr, which became fully operational in early 2013, launched mainly to aid individuals suffering from heart problems, eye injuries, and burns, it soon realized that burn victims were particularly neglected and found that no other NGO in Egypt was taking their matter seriously. Accordingly, the foundation decided to shift a sizable portion of its focus to burn victims.
“We noticed that there are many cases of burn victims in Egypt that are not cared for properly. It all started when we received cases of burn victims, yet didn’t know what hospital to send them to for proper and necessary care. Nearly all the hospitals in Egypt are not well equipped to handle cases of acute burns, which lead to the death of almost 80% of burn victims. We decided to establish a hospital specifically dedicated to burn victims,” says El-Sewedy.[caption id="attachment_521432" align="alignnone" width="620"] A burn victim who received treatment at the hospital poses for a photo with his family.[/caption]
So far, Ahl Masr boasts around 1,600 success stories in Egypt, some of whom have fully recovered and others still undergoing regular assessments and checkups.
One story is that of Habiba Reda, who according to the foundation’s website is “a vibrant and passionate five-year-old from Minia governorate.” Reda was injured in 2014 while she was trying to save her mother who had caught on fire. Reda’s face and head were severely burned, leaving her with permanent disfiguration and social rejection by her peers. With the help of Ahl Masr, Habiba “fully recovered and is set to have plastic surgery that will dramatically help her physiologically.”
Another story is the case of Amina Adel from Helwan Governorate. She was burned testing a gas cylinder using a match. The fire spread all over her body, leaving her suffering from massive burn injuries around her mouth, chest, arms and legs. Luckily, Adel has also recovered and the foundation’s website claims her face continues to smile despite everything that she’s been through.
Raghda Adel, from Minia Governorate, and her family lived in a modest and unsafe house. She was preparing a family meal when her gas cylinder exploded and her entire body caught fire. Raghda suffers from extensive burns and needs at least four reconstructive surgeries.
“Among the reasons behind why no one is approaching the issue of burn victims in Egypt is that treatment is very expensive,” says El-Sewedy.
According to the foundation, the cost per day to treat a burn victim ranges from LE 2,500 to LE 3,500 and this sum includes only 23% of the total cost needed for the patient to be fully cured.
“We don’t only provide plastic surgeries to the victims, but we also manage to provide them with the medication to help ease their pain and improve their recovery rates. Such medication is extremely expensive — a single dose can go up to LE 750 pounds — and not all people can afford it.”
The new hospital is set to include around 60 beds and 20 intensive care units that are fully equipped to handle mild and acute burn cases, a sophisticated treatment center for burn victims with comprehensive support services and assistance, and a team of highly qualified doctors and nurses who will receive constant training on the latest developments in the field of burn medicine.[caption id="attachment_521438" align="alignnone" width="620"] Designs for Ahl Masr's new burns hospital.[/caption]
The hospital will also employ unorthodox medical methods such as music treatment, which has been shown to have a notable effect on burn victims’ psychological well-being, and other alternative medicine.
Ahl Masr also strongly believes that prevention is better than cure, and that’s why they launched the ‘Safe Village’ initiative to improve the infrastructure of buildings in Upper Egyptian villages by ensuring homes have access to water and by rebuilding rooftops with clay instead of hay to reduce vulnerability to fires. Also, the program entails providing fire extinguishers for every home, raising awareness on the causes of fires and providing first aid training sessions.
“I have been following the progress that Ahl Masr has been making over the past two years, and I do believe that they will be able to provide services, in a short period of time, that other NGOs have been trying to achieve over decades,” says Ahmed Bahaa, a philanthropist and board member of Al-Shorouk Hospital, adding, “Their decisions have always been educated and calculated. This is what makes them, in my opinion, the top NGO in Egypt.”
Ahl Masr’s success particularly shines through its ability to collect the funds necessary to finance its programs. “For the first time in Egyptian history we managed to get competing companies, such as Orange and Etisalat and Juhayna and Domty, to sponsor us to achieve what we want. Also, the government was of tremendous help: they provided us with the land to build our hospital on, they are facilitating our entry to governorates so that we can teach the people living there about the methods of prevention of burns, and they are also allowing us to access all the government buildings so that we can educate employees about first aid and prevention methods,” says El-Sewedy.
Ahl Masr has also launched an initiative titled Humanity Burn Free to spread awareness regarding burns and the methods of preventing them. “This initiative provides all the support needed for victims to understand that they are not alone and they do have our utmost support,” explains El-Sewedy, adding that she has been trying to influence the WHO and the UNICEF to create a Humanity Burn Free day to commemorate all burn victims and raise awareness. In May, Ahl Masr also hosted a concert for the Lebanese singer Majida El-Roumi at the Giza Pyramids, with all proceeds going to the burns hospital.
“The government always cares about the well-being of the people, and we take it as our responsibility to facilitate the processes and provide the utmost support to philanthropists like Heba El-Sweedy, who take it upon themselves to improve the quality of life of Egyptians," says Hassan Ali, spokesperson of the Ministry of Health. "The hospital is promising, and we hope that it becomes as successful as 57357.”