Story of medical neglect: Former prisoner Mohand Ehab dies from leukemia
Courtesy: Mohand Ehab's Facebook Page

Mohand Ehab died on Monday due to complications related to leukaemia, a disease that he long suffered from untreated while held in an Alexandria Governorate prison, before being allowed to seek care in a New York City hospital.

The 19-year-old’s name emerged as a trending hashtag on Egyptian social media networks, with another hashtag, Sisi killed Mohand, placing the blame for his death on Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

According to Ehab’s personal account, he suffered medical neglect and mistreatment in detention, which made treatment abroad necessary and ultimately led to his death in a New York City hospital bed. Recounting his time in prison, Ehab detailed being subjected to torture, degrading treatment and verbal abuse deriding him and his family.

Ehab was arrested in January 2015, while on his way to film a protest in Alexandria, and subsequently imprisoned in March of that year. In May 2015, Ehab narrated the story of his poor medical treatment in Alexandria’s Borg al-Arab Prison. “I began to vomit and bleed from my nose,” he wrote, adding that he was incapable of holding things in his hands or using the toilet on his own.

When authorities at Borg al-Arab Prison agreed to transfer him to the prison’s hospital, Ehab recalled medical staff misdiagnosing him with a number of maladies. “You have anemia, they said. Then they told me you have typhoid. Then, that I have a viral liver infection,” he wrote.

Ehab wrote that other hospitals affiliated to the prison also failed to properly diagnose him, and it was not until his father took blood samples to a testing clinic that he was told he was suffering from leukemia.

Prison authorities agreed to transfer Ehab to a state-owned hospital in June 2015, where he received chemotherapy. He was released from custody the following month, amid public campaigns advocating that he receive proper medical treatment. A month later, Ehab’s parents transferred him to a hospital in the United States.

Doctor Taher Mokhtar, a member of the Medical Neglect in Prisons is a Crime campaign, spoke with Mada Masr regarding the paucity of information made available to the public concerning deaths in prison hospitals, among other issues surrounding health care in Egypt’s detention facilities.

“There are no clear or undisputed figures regarding deaths in hospitals. There may be dozens who have died in the past few years. I’ve received several reports myself about detainees dying in prisons due to medical negligence and a lack of healthcare,” Mokhtar said.

The physician called the medical negligence that led to Ehab’s death the latest in a long string of similar incidents, where prisoners are denied access to proper healthcare “as a form of punishment.”

“Some detainees suffer even worse and more painful fates” than that of Ehab, according to Mokhtar, claiming that some of those held in prison never receive care in hospitals.

While acknowledging prison conditions vary across Egypt, Mokhtar asserted that violations are particularly acute in three of Egypt’s prisons: the Aqrab maximum security prison in the Cairo Governorate, the Borg al-Arab Prison in Alexandria and Mansoura Prison in the Daqahlia Governorate. At Aqrab Prison, families are frequently denied visitation access and are thus unable to provide detainees with needed medicine.

“In prison there are fewer opportunities to receive medical attention coupled with a slower response time in transferring detainees who require medical assistance to hospitals,” explained Mokhtar, stating that the conjunction of these two features often results in the deterioration of prisoners’ health and, in some cases, death. “These are recurring phenomena and are not at all the exception to the rule.”

Mokhtar, who was jailed from January to August, asserted that Ehab’s case is extraordinary in that prisoners are rarely released because of medical concerns. “Several families have requested that their loved ones receive medical attention and proper healthcare, but they are frequently denied these services. As a result of this intentional mistreatment, several people have recently died in prison custody, due to intentional delays or the withholding of medical care, especially in those cases involving critical health conditions.”

Further, there is a lack of awareness regarding the right to health care and disproportionate treatment among certain segments of the general prison population.

“I’ve been jailed myself, in Torah Prison, and, from what I personally witnessed, I can tell you that prisoners accused of ordinary misdemeanors or felonies are treated worse than political prisoners. Generally, they are also not as aware of their rights as prisoners. On the other hand, political prisoners are treated better as there is more attention and a media spotlight focused on them. Plus, they tend to be more aware of their right to healthcare while in detention,” stated Mokhtar.

To better safeguard the health of those detained in Egypt’s prisons, Mokhtar recommended that the Egyptian government institute a series of reform policies, ranging from allowing representatives from the Doctors Syndicate and the state-appointed National Council for Human rights to visit prisons to expanding the prison healthcare budget and developing mechanisms to hold medial practitioners in correctional facilities responsible.

“The Interior Ministry must first treat prisoners as humans and recognize their right to healthcare, regardless of the offense which they have committed or are accused of. However, the ministry’s doctors are usually also police officers, and thus they may be more prone to punish prisoners than the average doctor,” Mokhtar concluded.

In a message from his New York City hospital room that was recorded before he died, Ehab said that he dreams of the release of all wrongfully jailed political detainees and prisoners of conscience.

Human rights lawyer Zyad Elelaimy also addressed Ehab’s death. “There are many others like Mohand in prison,” Elelaimy wrote in a Facebook post. “These brave ones,” who are subjected to abuse and mistreatment, in an attempt to “diminish them both physically and psychologically, so that they leave prison in Mohand’s condition, or psychologically damaged to the extent that they can no longer stand on their feet again.”

Jano Charbel 

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