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Angered doctors demand healthcare reform after colleague dies from meningitis

After a doctor died from meningitis that she contracted on the job, the Doctors Syndicate continued to lash out at the Health Ministry this week for failing to uphold basic health and safety standards at Egypt’s public hospitals.

Family members said that 28-year-old Dalia Mehrez came down with the fatal virus while working for the Ismailia University Specialized Hospital. But Health Ministry officials were initially reluctant to confirm meningitis as the cause of death — allegedly so they could avoid paying compensation to her family, syndicate members argue.

Health Ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahed had previously suggested Mehrez could have died from complications related to a head injury she sustained in a car accident five years ago, but that it was too soon to tell.

On Wednesday, however, the ministry finally accepted meningitis as the cause of death, the syndicate announced in a statement. Officials then agreed to reimburse her family the full costs of medical treatment received after she fell ill, worker’s compensation and a full monthly pension to help support the 1-year-old daughter Mehrez left behind. The Health Ministry also asked the Social Solidarity Ministry to pay out additional compensation.

But the Doctors Syndicate hasn’t declared victory yet.

“The Health Ministry is trying to avoid responsibility. After the ministry retracted its earlier statements, now it must apologize,” syndicate representative Mona Mina told the privately owned Mehwar channel.

The syndicate launched its campaign against the ministry shortly after Mehrez died to pressure state officials to tighten disease control measures at public hospitals, where they claim doctors face grave health risks. Other demands included increasing worker’s compensation to doctors who fall ill on the job to LE1,000, with a treatment allowance of LE3,000 — doctors currently only receive LE19 in such cases, the syndicate said. Furthermore, the syndicate is lobbying the Health Ministry to allow doctors who contract liver, respiratory system or blood diseases to be eligible for worker’s compensation.

The campaign further recommends shutting down any hospital that is found not to comply with strict health and safety protocol. 

Mehrez is the latest in a series of Egyptian doctors who died after being exposed to illnesses at work. Ahmed Abdel Latif died in 2013 in the northern city of Banha from a respiratory system infection he contracted at a public hospital there, while Ahmed al-Shawadfy died in Cairo in 2014 from the swine flu. Yassir al-Barbary in Qalyubiya and Doaa Ismail and Osama Rashed in Daqahlia also died from different illnesses they were exposed to at work in the last two years.

The Doctors Syndicate has waged a heated protest movement against the government since the outbreak of January 25 revolution. The doctors demand increased government spending on heath, better pay, better resources and a general overhaul of Egypt’s healthcare system. 

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