By Dr. Amal El-Sisi, member of the Rotary Club ElTahrir, Egypt
I am a professor of Pediatric Cardiology at the Cairo University Children’s Hospital. Since the start of pandemic, we have been struggling at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The Cardiac ICU covers emergency medical and post-operative cases. It is also a referral hospital for all of Egypt, and is well known for superb service in a difficult specialty. The hospital heavily depends on donations as government resources are short and even more limited during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, all routine surgical cases have been postponed. We admit only emergency and urgent cases. Critical cases are admitted to the ICU for treatment as usual. Elective cases are all postponed and this is causing longer waiting lists. It is estimated that waiting lists have doubled during this time, which means the waiting time for elective surgical procedures for children is prolonged up to six months. We had two positive COVID-19 cases, and many suspected cases. The government strategy is to refer all suspected or proven cases to the hospitals allocated for COVID-19 cases. We are not allowed to keep any positive cases in our hospital. Unfortunately, we don’t test all patients admitted or undergoing procedures at the hospital. Egypt’s test rate is one of the lowest worldwide per population, likely because the government doesn’t have enough tests. In Egypt, only 4000 people are tested for COVID-19 daily in a population of 100 million.
Our staff has also been affected: seven of the doctors and nurses tested positive for COVID-19 and one of them fell critically ill in the ICU. All staff who were in contact with these doctors and nurses were asked to stay home for 14 days. Anesthesiologists and surgeons are advised to wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) during procedures, but the rest of the staff just wear surgical masks and gowns. We have a shortage of supplies and we depend on donations. Rotary clubs have done great work in supporting the hospital and the cardiac ICU. They supplied the hospital with surgical masks, hand disinfectant, alcohol, and full PPE.
As a Rotarian doctor, I try to raise awareness in my community. I think all doctors and nurses, whether on the frontline or not, have this responsibility. There is a lot of fake news and wrong advice circulating on social media. We have to be very careful regarding the information we share. It is our responsibility as medical staff and as Rotarians to share accurate and helpful information. Another responsibility we have is to reassure people, positive information has to be stressed and explained.
In District 2451, we have a group of 105 Rotarian doctors and we communicate on a daily basis through WhatsApp to share advice, our experiences, and updates. We also offer advice, support, and free online medical consultations through a closed Facebook group to Rotary members.
The district’s Heart2Heart project led by the Rotary Club of El Tahrir treats children with heart conditions. During this time, we continue to support children and advise families on COVID-19.
I am also a part of the International Fellowship of Rotarian Doctors. The group has been meeting via Zoom to discuss COVID-19 related challenges in our countries. We exchange ideas, advice and discuss recommendations from all over the world.
Being a part of these groups, and connecting with other healthcare professional during this time has been so important. I feel like I am not alone, as other doctors are having similar experiences and facing similar challenges not only in Egypt but all over the world. We are able to reassure each other, and build a community that we find comfort in.