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Egypt: an expert assesses the medical response

15-02-2011 Interview

Dr Hassan Nasreddine, a senior ICRC medical specialist, has just returned to ICRC headquarters in Geneva from Cairo, where he had gone to gain a first-hand impression of the situation. He reports on his mission.

What was the objective of your mission to Cairo? What was your first impression when you arrived there?

What struck me most when I first arrived in Cairo was the civilians manning road blocks, trying to protect their neighbourhoods from looting because the police had deserted the streets. Scenes of violence, looted areas and buildings burnt down in the middle of the city – it was shocking. Now that everything is back to normal in Tahrir Square, it is hard to believe what the situation was like just a few days ago.

My main objective was to assess the situation in terms of medical and health care, to get an idea of the scope of the needs, in Cairo and in Alexandria. Since the very beginning of the events, the ICRC's priority was to help first-aid providers cope with the situation. We worked closely with the Egyptian Red Crescent, our primary partner, which provided us with a list of the hospitals where most of the casualties were taken. Medical supplies were flown in to Cairo on the basis of this assessment and channelled through the Egyptian Red Crescent and the Ministry of Health. The primary aim was to relieve pressure on contingency stocks in Cairo and other cities.

Were you able to distribute medical supplies?

Together with the Egyptian Red Crescent, we distributed surgical and other medical supplies over the weekend to 12 hospitals in the greater Cairo area where most of the casualties were admitted for treatment: General Hospital of Mancheyet el Bakri, General Hospital of Mounira, Sahel Hospital, Om el Massriyin Hospital, General Hospital Boulak el Dakrour, Al Ahram Hospital, Embaba General Hospital, Tahrir General Hospital, Nasser Institute Hospital, Helal Hospital, Kasr El Eini Hospital and Demerdash Hospital.

The supplies were sufficient to treat up to 1,000 severely wounded patients. In addition, enough bandages and dressing materials to treat 5,000 casualties were given to the Egyptian Red Crescent. We also kept in our own stocks enough emergency dressing kits to treat some 5,000 people with minor injuries.

What were the main challenges for medical personnel treating the wounded during the peaks of violence?

During the first few days of February, medical staff in first-aid posts and hospitals had to cope with hundreds of casualties. But because almost no one ventured into the city by car, there were fewer victims of road accidents in the hospitals … and first-aiders in Tahrir Square were well organized.

I received regular updates from various primary health-care providers on the ground in Tahrir Square, and from health workers and medical staff elsewhere. There was a steady flow of food, medication and other items to doctors, nurses and first-aid workers from citizens who collected the items in their neighbourhoods.

What they were telling me was that most of their work consisted in treating minor injuries, while severely wounded people were taken to hospital by ambulances. The emergency medical services stabilized patients and used triage to ensure that the patients with the most serious needs were treated first. In Egypt, unlike in many other countries, in Europe for example, it is not the National Society – the Egyptian Red Crescent – that leads the response in the event of a medical emergency. In Egypt, it is the Ministry of Health that is in charge of first aid and pre-hospital care.

What happens next? How are you planning to work with the Egyptian Red Crescent?

So far, we haven't identified further needs but we continue to monitor the situation closely and stand ready to assist if needed.

One of the main challenges consists in having to adapt to a quickly evolving situation in which you are dealing directly with individuals or with loosely structured organizations, not with government administrations. You have to find new and creative ways of collecting information, and be ready to take action swiftly.

We are also looking into ways of developing and strengthening our partnership with the Egyptian Red Crescent. Through its large network of staff and volunteers, the National Society is a key partner.



Hassan Nassredine


Tahrir Square, Cairo. Doctors, nurses and ordinary citizens set up an improvized dressing station to treat people injured during the demonstrations.
© ICRC / N. Cohen / eg-e-00011