Healing Egypt’s Needy
Cairo’s St. Thérèse Hospital provides low-cost health care to Christians and Muslims
by Liam Stack with photographs by Shawn Baldwin
Rashad Fahmy nervously taps his sandaled foot on the shiny waiting room floor, wincing each time he hears his wifes screams cut through the air.
Beneath framed prints of Jesus, the Virgin and St. Thérèse, his extended family sits around him on folding chairs. In the next room, his wife, Noor, clutches the small of her back as she walks in a slow circle, her pregnant belly stretching the rough cotton of her dark gellabiya, the traditional ankle-length robe of Egypts rural poor.
Neither Mr. Fahmy nor his wife has ever set foot inside a hospital before; nor have any of the assembled siblings and cousins who have come with them to wait for the birth of the couples first child. For such a milestone, they did not want to take any chances. As Mrs. Fahmys due date approached, the family decided to take her to St. Thérèse Hospital near their home in Imbaba, a sprawling Cairo neighborhood.
According to staff members and patients, St. Thérèse is the best hospital in Imbaba, and thanks to its commitment to serving the poor, the cheapest.
The Fahmys are Orthodox Copts from the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut, an ancient river center some 200 miles south of Cairo that is one of the most heavily populated Christian centers in Egypt. The family is new to Cairo, having moved to the nations capital in search of a better life.
We came here about a year or two ago, says Mr. Fahmy, looking down at his feet as a ceiling fan spins loosely overhead. Imbaba is nice, we like it here. All of our family lives here now and our work is here. My brothers and I found work on construction sites, spreading plaster on walls.
While construction work pays modestly, the family still wanted to give the young mother and her new baby the best care they could afford. They asked around the community and were directed to St. Thérèse.
A relative of ours delivered a baby here, and we decided to come here too because she said the doctors were good and the people were nice, says Gad Fahmy Shehata Morqos, Rashads older brother, his rough hands folded tensely in his lap.
Mr. Morqos is an imposing barrel-chested man with a hard, weathered face. He leans forward in his unsteady chair as he listens to his sister-in-laws labored moans in the next room. He is a force in the family. When he speaks, everyone listens intently. He says his family is grateful for the good work St. Thérèse Hospital does and the low fees it charges, but worries that the price may still be too high for many of Egypts poorest.
This hospital is beautiful and the people are so nice and respectful to us, but the fees are high, he says. There are other people who are poorer than we are. Thank God we can afford it, but it would be nice if they could lower their fees.
His family paid 500 Egyptian pounds ($86) for all of Noor Fahmys obstetric care far less than what such treatment would cost at other hospitals in the city, which probably would be less clean and more crowded. But for Cairos poor, even 500 pounds is a lot.
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