From Elective Reviews - Egypt - Harpur Memorial Hospital, Menouf, 2004 - Alison Humphrey
Returning from my elective in Egypt at Harpur Memorial Hospital in Menouf there is so much that I could write about, new experiences, encounters with people, sights or sounds. I could write about the despair as we found a new-born baby, less than 24 hours old, in the rubbish bin outside the hospital. Left in a plastic bag, hungry and covered in ants. He will have to grow upin a Muslim orphanage in poor conditions as their law does not allow adoption or for the child to go to another country.
Or about the frustration at the lack of resources and training. The government hospitals provide free or near free treatment to all Egyptians. Unfortunately the standard of care in these institutions is very poor and they often offer little specialist care. In reality this means that most patients (even thevery poorest) have to use the services of the private sector. The quality of these practitioners varies immensely with no regulation of their practice post qualification. The sad consequence of this is that many patients spend money which they can ill afford on investigations and treatment that will not benefit them. Many of the private specialists also seem reluctant to refer patients to places where they can receive better treatment, instead treating in a substandard way because the equipment required is not available in their practice. I will not forget the man with acute hepatitis A who turned up at the hospital clutching a bin bag (no I am not exaggerating) full of the medicines and other treatments he had been prescribed by a whole host of doctors over the previous 10 days. He also had handfuls of scans and investigations, yet this clearly jaundiced man had not once had his bilirubin levels checked. This was typical of many patients arriving after seeing others first. Or about the hope given to patients at Harpur hospital as they are listened to and treated with respect. The hospital treats all patients who come through its doors regardless of religious, social oreconomic status. The prices are low with the poorest patients receiving free treatment. There are 75 inpatient beds as well as the 50 000 outpatients who are seen each year by the 8 resident and manyvisiting doctors. Thanks to donations from overseas the hospital is comparatively well equipped,with a new x-ray machine being opened whilst I was there.
Or about the poverty of the people, who are mainly farmers. Many live in shacks without sanitation, with the better off in unfinished apartment blocks. The burden of disease is increased through these poor conditions as well as the use of canal water for the daily tasks of living.
Or about the legacy of failed disease prevention in which most of the population were vaccinated 20 or so years ago against bilharzia. Unfortunately single use needles were not used. 20% of thepopulation are now officially reported to be hepatitis C positive; it is likely the true figure is more like 40%. The disease continues to be spread through ignorance of the risks of tattooing, earpiercing and other invasive procedures with non sterile equipment. The burden of this chronic disease is starting to show, unfortunately the worst is still likely to come.
Or about the joy of lives changed through new encounters with Christ, yet the sadness that these stories cannot be shared for the safety of all involved in reaching out to them.
Or about the new life offered by the hospital's outreach programmes. These range from a school for disabled youngsters, children rejected by this society, through projects to provide sanitation and tiling in people's homes to prevent disease, to gifts of food and blankets to help the poorest throughthe winter and craft projects, which offer a fair trade price for their goods.
Or about the oppression of the calls to prayer which echo out around the country 5 times a day.
Or about the warmth of the welcome offered by the staff – Christian and Muslim alike. And the strength of the church in a country in which persecution is great, in which evangelism and conversion are punished alike by death.
Yet the thing that is probably most pronounced in my mind is the first church meeting I attended whilst I was there – I had been in the country less than 4 hours. These verses from Amos were read at that first service: They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. (Amos 2 v6-7) Surely as individuals and nations we are all guilty of this.
As I saw each and every patient I was challenged not to view them through earthly eyes, nor to be repulsed by what I saw when I went out. Instead to be stirred with the compassion of Christ, to see them through his eyes and to respond in the way he would. It is so easy to be drawn into the worldly view of the poor, to be hardened by the constant images of poverty and suffering that we see on the TV. Yet as Christians we are called to be different and to treat them as Christ would: maybe this is our greatest witness. In a county in which evangelism is illegal, that is the only witness.
I am sure like many others I found my visit to a developing country full of both hope and sadness –hope for the lives improved through the hospital's work and sadness at how much more could bedone if we all took a little responsibility for our brothers and sisters around the world. As people living in the developed world many of us have become hardened to the poverty that exists elsewhere. The images of suffering trample past our eyes each time we watch the news or read the paper. The challenge we all face is not just to view these images and let them pass us by as something we can do nothing about but to see each of these people as an individual. Feeling, loving, hurting people just like you or me and then to consider our response. For as the old saying goes –there but for the grace of God go I. What would you want if it were you?