Hospitals and Ambulances
The number for emergency medical care is 123. If possible, avoid seeking care from a government-run hospital. Unfortunately, the same goes for ambulances.
At first glance, this may seem like a harsh, culturally insensitive advice. In reality, you will find it quite practical. Government hospitals provide limited nursing care (patients’ friends and or family are expected to fill this role) and are often stuck with low-quality, unsanitary medical equipment. Doctors are overworked and underpaid.
If you do decide to seek care at a public hospital, you will be best served by a facility attached to a university medical school. These include Ain Shams University Hospital in Cairo and Alexandria University Hospital. These facilities usually have higher quality equipment and a better trained staff – though medical students will likely provide some of your treatment.
Call an ambulance? Maybe not …
In the event of an emergency, you may be tempted to call an ambulance. Unfortunately, if you live in a rural area there will probably not be an ambulance available. In an urban environment your ambulance will probably end up stuck in traffic. This is particularly true in Cairo, where they often end up trapped in gridlock with their sirens wailing.
As a result, if you need to get to a hospital in a hurry you will be better off piling into a cab with a friend or family member. You may still end up stuck in traffic depending on the time of day, but you will find that cabs are much easier to come by than ambulances! Of course, that observation is not limited to foreigners – most Egyptians prefer to get to the hospital the same way.
If you are staying in a large hotel and require medical assistance, the front desk will be able to arrange transportation to a quality private medical facility, and will likely also have a staff doctor on hand in the meantime.
Because of all this, you should take care to have a detailed medical check-up before leaving for Egypt, especially if you have a pre-existing condition that can flare up without much warning.
Private Medical Care in Egypt
While living in Egypt, you will probably seek most of your medical care from private hospitals. These generally offer higher quality care in cleaner surroundings, not to mention staff that are used to dealing with international patients.
Popular private medical centres include the International Medical Centre and Anglo American Hospital in Cairo. Egypt’s National Cancer Institute is also located in Cairo – its goal is to bring state-of the art technology and treatment methodology to Egyptian oncology.
In Alexandria, the German Hospital is a perennial favourite of expatriates and travellers alike, though other options include Miami Private Hospital and Victoria Hospital.
Should find yourself stricken with a parasite during your time in Egypt, the Theodor Bilharz Research Institute in Cairo is dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and research of schistosomiasis parasites (which you risk contracting should you take an inadvisable dip in the Nile). It is located in Giza, and has a nursing school attached.
Many private hospitals feature international staff, though some supplement this with competent Egyptian doctors from public hospitals that choose to practice privately part-time in order to earn extra money. Language-wise, you will not find navigating private hospitals or medical clinics particularly difficult: The Egyptian staff will likely speak excellent English and invariably so will the international doctors and nurses.
Private hospitals usually accept medical insurance policies, as long as your coverage extends to treatment received abroad. Check your policy before leaving abroad, and see our section on insurance for more information.
You can find a fairly comprehensive listing of Egyptian hospitals and medical clinics at Hospitals WorldWide.com . Pacific Prime has posted a large list of hospitals with English-speaking staff here . http://www.pacificprime.com/countries/egypt/hospitals.php
Some private hospitals will ask for very high prices from foreigners. If you feel the price is a little on the steep side, then try and speak to another employee about it to make sure the person quoting you a high price is not adding a little extra for himself.
For all the aggravation you may experience paying for your medical care out of pocket and struggling to find a decent hospital, you will find Egyptian pharmacies a pleasant change of pace (for the most part).
Pharmacies are plentiful throughout major cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, less so in rural areas. They are amazingly well-stocked, offering everything from shampoo to contact lens solution and a number of over the counter medications that require prescriptions in other countries.
Egyptian pharmacists usually have at least limited medical knowledge, and most speak decent English. Simply explain your condition or ask for a specific item and the pharmacist will be happy to help you. If you have a prescription from a hospital or medical clinic, hand the pharmacist the slip and he will procure it for you.
You will probably find over the counter medication much cheaper in Egypt than your home country. Brand-name birth control, for example, can be had for a fraction of its price in Europe or the United States. Cough, cold and flu medicines are more expensive, though still cheaper than in most other countries. Generic cold and flu medicines are much more inexpensive (and will be getting even cheaper now that the Ministry of Health plans to reduce 40 medicines’ prices by 10-60%). Unfortunately, the low prices do come with a few hazards.
Due to rampant poverty, Egyptian pharmacies are sometimes flooded with generic drugs of questionable quality. Some of these drugs don’t work, others are extremely powerful and a very small percentage have proven fatal.
As a rule, never take anything that does not come in a clearly marked package, and always take care to follow dosage instructions to the letter (even generic packaging usually has English instructions alongside the Arabic). If you’re unsure that you’ve been given an effective (or safe) generic medicine, ask an Egyptian friend or student for their opinion.
As with many other aspects of life in Egypt, use your instincts and a liberal dose of common sense when making decisions about generic medicines. It goes without saying that you should refrain from abusing the availability of powerful prescription drugs. Just because you can have an Egyptian pharmacy deliver a bottle of Xanax to your door doesn’t necessarily mean you should.