Egyptian COVID-19 patients complain of pressure, deception on clinical trials

Many family members of coronavirus patients in Egypt report being forced or tricked into allowing their loved ones to participate in clinical trials.

al-monitor A picture taken by a doctor at the Sheikh Zayed hospital in Cairo on April 25, 2020, shows radiology technicians in protective gear posing for a picture in a lab in the isolation ward for COVID-19 patients. Photo by YAHYA DIWER/AFP via Getty Images.

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egyptian government, coronavirus, covid-19, health care, egyptian doctors, medicine

Jul 28, 2020

CAIRO — Egypt agreed to conduct clinical trials to help find a treatment for COVID-19 back in March.

However, several family members of patients infected with the novel coronavirus told Al-Monitor over the phone that they were not directly and expressly notified that the treatment was part of a clinical trial.

Hasna Abdul Rahman, the daughter of a patient in Assiut governorate, told Al-Monitor that her father “showed symptoms at the end of May, and he had a fever and dry cough for two days before he decided to consult the doctor at the hospital.”

She added, “When we headed to the hospital, they at first refused to take a swab to detect the virus. But with the quick escalation of symptoms, they finally agreed and the result came back positive. We were notified that he would be admitted to one of the quarantine hospitals because of his old age and serious condition. We left the hospital and were forbidden any contact with him.”

“Six days later, we received a call from the hospital administration telling us about his deteriorating situation. He lost consciousness and was put on a ventilator. We had to rush to the hospital to sign a form,” Abdul Rahman recounted. The nature of the required form was not disclosed at that point to the family.

She added, “As soon as we reached the hospital, they asked us to sign a waiver on the hospital’s liability for the health of my father because they were using a new drug. When we objected, they threatened to take him off the ventilator to give other patients a chance, which would lead to his death. We relented under pressure.”

Egypt still does not have a law regulating clinical trials. In May 2018, the parliament sent a bill to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to sign, but the president returned it with remarks to reconsider. The law has not been discussed since.

According to parliamentary spokesperson Salah Hasaballah, “The approval of the clinical trial law in Egypt has been delayed because the parliament has yet to examine the president's remarks and is preoccupied with other laws.”

Hasaballah told Al-Monitor that the law will be passed soon, “before the term of the current parliament ends.” He did not specify a date.

On May 18, presidential spokesperson Bassam Radi said that Sisi has called for expanding clinical trials on coronavirus patients, announcing in a statement, “Sisi called for more support for clinical trials related to coronavirus, considering the regional and international distinction of the research conducted by Egyptian research centers and universities.”

A young man whose father died from the virus accused the Ministry of Health of tricking him and forcing him to sign a form he did not read. He told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity for fear of persecution, “We went to the hospital on June 13 after my father’s condition deteriorated. He was immediately isolated after his blood oxygen level dropped to less than 80%, according to the doctor. He was placed in intensive care. The doctors said his condition was deteriorating, but that they would do all they could.

“On the fourth day, I went to the hospital with my younger brother to check on our father. The doctor wanted to see me immediately and he said my father’s condition was bad and that a new treatment had been introduced in Egypt. Due to its scarcity, not all patients are allowed to take it, except after signing a routine form.”

He said, “I first refused, but due to pressure from the doctor, I agreed. Six days later, the hospital called to tell us my father passed away. I went to the doctor who claimed the treatment would help my father, but he refused to take responsibility. He said I knew it was part of clinical trials for a new medication and that I agreed.”

The young man added, “But I had no idea these were clinical trials. I feel the doctor duped us to get the agreement. I am very angry because my father died without our knowledge that the treatment was only a trial. … I want to sue the hospital and the doctor but I do not know where to start.”

Mahmoud Fouad is the director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Medicine, which advocates for patients' rights to health and medical care. He told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian government has been stalling on approving the clinical trials law, which is sorely needed.”

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