Difficult to photograph as it is surrounded by trees, Bulaq General Hospital was built in 1936 as a robust red brick streamline modernist three-story structure near the Nile in Bulaq. The hospital is among a series of what could be called “historic hospitals” that were built by the state in the first part of the twentieth century which have been decaying for decades and neglected by the state. Some of these hospitals have also been targeted by corrupt officials who have permitted the destruction of such hospitals and are selling the properties to real estate development (no health official should be able to so easily sell state property for use by private investment!). The most recent of those incidents was the Coptic Hospital in Alexandria.
Bulaq General Hospital was part of a hospital building program that took place during the reign of Foad and Farouk when the health ministry, which was also tasked with supervising urban development to ensure healthy living conditions, built hospitals throughout the city to service its inhabitants. Bulaq’s hospital was to serve Bulaq and Gezira (Zamalek). Today the building is nearly abandoned. The collapse of the state’s health services and the dominance of private and charitable medical providers coupled with the hollowing out of Bulaq (mass evictions and relocations have been occurring here since the 1970s to make way for international hotels of tourist developments) have led to the institutional collapse of Bulaq Hospital. The building, however, appears to be in near perfect condition, judging by its exterior. It is certain that the functions of the hospital are in desperate need for overhaul. This building must be saved for its architectural and historical value but also because Cairo needs more, not less, hospitals and medical facilities.
The building is located in the now prized location within the government’s (read business elite) plan to entirely redevelop Bulaq as a tourist and business hub. Directly across the street from Bulaq General Hospital is the construction site of the mammoth St. Regis Hotel. North of the hospital is another state-owned “public service” facility (كلية الاقتصاد المنزلى) that appears to share the hospital’s fate. Directly east of the hospital are two historic and registered sites (from among 15 registered historic sites in Bulaq): the sixteenth century Sinan Mosque (1571) and Tikiya Rifaiya (1774).
In July 2010, Al Ahram reported the plans to demolish the hospital to make way for real estate development:
كان المستشفي يعد من أفضل المستشفيات علي مستوي الجمهورية, وكان يسمي مستشفي المجموعة لتميزه بمجموعة من التخصصات الطبية, لكن الوضع الحالي أصبح يثير الجدل في عدد من المحافل المعنية ويثير كثيرا من الشائعات حول الخطط الموضوعة للاستفادة من موقع المستشفي المميز.. لأهداف استثمارية بحتة!!
في البداية يقول عبدالباقي أحمد عبدالباقي ـ من أهالي بولاق ابوالعلا ـ إن الفقير يستطيع أن يتحمل آلام الجوع لكنه لا يقدر علي أن يتحمل آلام المرض, لذا فإن تدهور حال مستشفي بولاق أدي إلي تدهور الحالة الصحية لكثير من مرضي المنطقة خاصة أنه كان يقدم الخدمة العلاجية, ويوفر الدواء بالمجان للآلاف لكنه يفتقر الآن لأبسط أنواع العلاج حتي أنابيب الأوكسجين وعبوات الجلوكوز منذ عدة أشهر وأصبح شعار لا يوجد هو الشعار الذي ترفعه أقسام المستشفي بداية من الطواريء إلي غرف العمليات والتحاليل والأشعات غير المتوفرة!
According to the report, there has been intentional negligence at the hospital since 2002 in what appeared to local residents as preparing the stage for dismantling it and taking it off Cairo’s list of hospitals. The institutional collapse of the hospital has had dire effect on the health of local residents. One resident is quoted as saying “It is easier to deal with hunger than to deal with the pain of disease and illness.”
The report also confirms the Health Ministry’s plans to sell the hospital property to a developer. The sale, it appears, has no preconditions for replacing the existing hospital with a new one to serve the area. Hospital staff amounted to 200 doctors and 150 nurses in addition to other staff, all of whom (until the publishing of the Ahram article) had no other job assignments if Bulaq Hospital becomes nonoperational.
ولأن العلاج حق دستوري للمواطن ـ يتابع ـ فنحن نناشد وزارة الصحة ـ رفقا بالغلابة والفقراء من أهالي بولاق ابوالعلا تطوير وترميم المستشفي بشكل فوري.
The Health Ministry signed a LE40 million contract with a construction company in 2003 to begin “renovation” and in 2004 the company destroyed an annex building which was built in 1995 and included 18 kidney dialysis units. Medical equipment was removed from the hospital buildings to begin the “renovation.” Nothing has come from the LE40 million contract since then. The government issued a demolition permit sometime after which was halted as local representatives and the community reacted against the demolition. Although the community was able to halt the demolition, the ministry has abandoned the hospital and has not included it in its annual “investment” budgets. The hospital is the main medical facility for the poor areas of Imbaba, Bulaq, Sahel, and Rod al-Farag.
يؤكد محمد حمدان ـ عضو مجلس محلي حي بولاق ـ لن نرضي إلا بتطوير وترميم المستشفي وإذا كان هناك مخطط آخر لاستثمار الأرض وبيعها لأحد المستثمرين كما يـشاع فسوف نقوم بالاعتصام داخل المستشفي.
إن هناك العديد من التساؤلات التي تطرح نفسها علي الساحة أولها كيف وصل المستشفي إلي هذه الحالة المتدهورة في ظل وجود هيكل إداري وطبي وأجهزة رقابية من وزارة الصحة؟ من المسئول عن قرار الهدم وعدم البناء مرة أخري؟ ولماذا لا يتم صرف المخصصات التي تم رصدها لتطوير المستشفي؟
Al-Ahram, a state paper, was not allowed access to photograph the inside of the hospital nor allowed to review the government’s or ministry’s proposal for the site.
This beautiful 1936 building is testament to a government that aimed to improve the lives and health of its citizens in a way that contrasts with today’s government response to the health and wellbeing of Egyptians, especially the poor. The building, so far, has survived, even though it has been hollowed. But Bulaq Hospital must be saved to fulfill its intended function. While the six star St. Regis hotel rises across the street, Bulaq General Hospital sits empty and ignored. Millions of dollars are poured into an exclusive facility that will cater to birds of passage. Not a penny from this or other investments benefit the community, not even towards fixing the hospital across the street.
[building detail: a stair]
[A side view of the hospital with the World Trade Center in the background]
[old sign on hospital fence: Planned Parenthood unit]