Video of woman giving birth outside Egyptian hospital triggers outcry

CAIRO (REUTERS) - An Egyptian hospital director was suspended on Monday after a video purporting to show a woman giving birth on the facility's doorstep caused an uproar among citizens tired of overcrowded and understaffed medical centres.

The woman's husband, Ahmed Musa Abdel Fattah, was quoted by the website of state-run newspaper Al-Ahram as saying the couple were turned away by hospital staff who told them the only doctor was busy performing a Caesarean section on another woman.

In the video, uploaded to YouTube and published on news sites, the woman, covered by her veil and a sheet as she lies on her back in the street, appears to go into labour outside Kafr al-Dawar Public Hospital. Two nurses later run outside, duck under the sheet and emerge with a baby in a pink blanket.

The hospital, in the Nile Delta city of Kafr al-Dawar, said staff were ready and willing to deliver the baby and the video was a ploy by the woman's family to discredit the facility.

State news agency MENA said the provincial health minister had suspended the hospital director pending an investigation.

But that has not been enough to quell the online and on-air anger of Egyptians, who have accused the hospital of negligence and questioned the state's commitment to the health of its population of 85 million.

"When hospitals let women give birth in the street, it raises questions of government negligence, no matter how much the government flaunts its commitment to women's rights," one Egyptian said on a Facebook page dedicated to the incident.

The World Health Organisation said last year the main shortcomings of the Egyptian healthcare system were high out-of-pocket expenses required from patients and low government spending, which put care out of the reach of the very poor and left clinics unable to hire staff to treat those who can pay.

The government has promised to improve services.

Abdel Fattah told the paper that staff at the hospital, the chief medical facility for the industrial city of a quarter of a million people, urged the couple to go to Alexandria, around 30 km away, for treatment instead.

He said that when they insisted that the hospital provide an ambulance, security officers removed the pregnant woman from the building and she went into labour while waiting for a taxi.

The video, which appears to be cellphone footage shot by a bystander, shows her lying on the pavement just metres away from the hospital beside a stretcher. She is shown surrounded by several women who appear to be comforting her, as well as her husband and various bystanders.

"Look at the human rights here, where a woman has to give birth in the street when there's a hospital right there," one man is heard saying.

Afterwards, the woman is loaded onto the stretcher and taken into the hospital as the crowd disperses.

The hospital denies that it asked the woman to leave.

"We do not allow any patients to be turned away," the hospital said in a statement posted on the official Facebook page of the Buheira Governorate Ministry of Health. "Those who were with the patient chose to have the baby outside in order to videotape it and defame the hospital."

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