Egypt: World Bank warned funding for Covid-19 is neglecting jailed doctors
The World Bank was urged by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday to support medical workers who have been arrested for criticising Egypt's Covid-19 response, as the bank prepares to give Cairo millions of dollars to combat the pandemic.
The World Bank is due to give Cairo an additional $50m for the country's healthcare system to fight the virus.
The rights group criticised the international lender for not publicly condemning the arrest of at least six doctors and pharmacists who remain in jail for raising concerns over proper testing and the lack of protective equipment for Egyptian healthcare workers.
The charges levelled at the arrested medical workers include "spreading false news", "misusing social media" and "joining an unlawful organisation".
'Egypt’s arrests of medical professionals who criticised its Covid-19 policies warrant unambiguous opposition from the World Bank, in line with its commitment not to tolerate reprisals'
- Amr Magdi, HRW
Among those arrested include members of the Doctors' Syndicate, Egypt's main medical association, and one of the last independent unions in the country.
The government does not officially collect the death-rate data of health workers, despite the World Health Organisation's recommendations to keep such records.
Egypt's arrests of medical workers also stands in violation of the World Bank's policy on reprisals against individuals who face intimidation for sharing their views on "bank-financed projects", according to the rights group.
“Egypt’s arrests of medical professionals who criticised its Covid-19 policies warrant unambiguous opposition from the World Bank, in line with its commitment not to tolerate reprisals,” said Amr Magdi, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The World Bank should recognise that the government’s crackdown on the Doctors’ Syndicate, as the last venue for doctors to independently voice their concerns and raise reprisals, hurts the public health goals its investments are meant to achieve.”
Real figures 'far higher'
Egypt has recorded at least 119,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 6,813 deaths, according to official government figures. Analysts, however, believe the figures to be higher.
In March, Egypt forced Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson to leave the country for reporting on a scientific study that said Egypt was likely to have more coronavirus cases than officially confirmed.
This latest round of World Bank aid comes after it approved the Egypt Covid-19 emergency response to support the government's capacity to detect, prevent and treat the virus.
This funding includes financing the procurement of personal protective equipment and the operation of medical facilities.