Private development vs. the public interest

Across Cairo public service institutions are deteriorating due to severe corruption in the last two decades. The slow collapse of the state throughout the years, leading up to the uprising of last year, entailed the mismanagement of institutions such as schools and hospitals. The Bulaq General Hospital is a prime example of how private interests and international development have been favoured over the needs of the public. The hospital is located in the now poor but once thriving district of Bulaq in central Cairo. Bulaq General Hospital was built in 1936 as a redbrick modernist three-story structure among a series of hospitals that were built by the state in the first part of the 20th century. Corrupt officials have targeted some of these hospitals because of their prime location and have permitted their destruction and their selling off to make way for real estate development.

Today Bulaq hospital is nearly abandoned. The collapse of the state’s health services and the dominance of private and charitable medical providers coupled with the hollowing out of Bulaq district(mass evictions and relocations have been occurring here since the 1970s to make way for international hotels of tourist developments) have led to the institutional collapse of the hospital. The building appears to be in near-perfect condition from its exterior, but the functions of the hospital are in desperate need of overhaul.

In July 2010 Al Ahram state newspaper reported the plans to demolish the hospital. According to the report, there has been intentional negligence of both patients and equipmentsince 2002 in what appears to local residents as preparing the hospital for dismantling and taking it off Cairo’s list of hospitals. The institutional collapse of the hospital has had dire effect on the health of locals. One resident is quoted as saying, “It is easier to deal with hunger than to deal with the pain of disease and illness.” The report also confirms the Health Ministry’s plans to sell the hospital property to a developer. The sale, it appears, has no preconditions for replacing the existing hospital with a new one to serve the area. Hospital staff amounting to 200 doctors and 150 nurses in addition to other staff, all have no other jobs if Bulaq hospital becomes nonoperational.

Mohamed Hamdan, then member of the Bulaq local council, denounces the plans for demolition and insists that the community will fight to preserve the building and to pressure the government to restore its functions. Meanwhile land across the street from the hospital has also been sold and construction already begun on a six-star St. Regis hotel and condominium towers. The Health Ministry signed a LE40 million contract (about $6,8 million) with a construction company in 2003 to begin “renovation” and in 2004 the company destroyed an annex building that included 18 kidney dialysis units. According to the Al Ahram report, medical equipment was removed from the hospital to begin the “renovation”. Nothing has come from the LE40 million contract since then.Although the community was able to halt the demolition, the ministry has abandoned the hospital and has not included it in its annual “investment” budgets. The hospital is the main medical facility for the poor areas of Imbaba, Bulaq, Sahel, and Rod al-Farag.

This 1936 building is testament to a state that aimed to improve the lives and health of its citizens, which is in sharp contrast to today’s government response to the health and wellbeing of Egyptians, especially the poor. The building, so far, has survived, even though it has been hollowed out. But Bulaq hospital must be saved to fulfill its intended function, instead of sitting empty and ignored.

Mohamed Elshahed is a researcher who focuses on architecture and urban planning in Egypt from the 19th century to the present. He is founder and editor of the Cairobserver, a websites focusing on urbanism in Cairo

Twitter: Cairobserver


This article is part of UrbanAfrica’s reporting project

image credit: Mohamed el Shahed



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