Author: Dr Walaa Talaat, Lecturer of Economics, Ain Shams University
In Egypt, as elsewhere, it is to be expected that the main burden of Covid-19 mortality will fall on older people. The number of the population aged above 65 in Egypt is 5,297,000, which accounts for 4.6 per cent of the total population in 2019. CAPMAS 2019 reports that life expectancy in Egypt is around 73.9 years (72.7 years for males, and 75.1 years for females). As of May 31, there were 24,985 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 959 deaths in Egypt.
Data about the number of cases and deaths among older people are not available on the Ministry of Health and Population’s website. Cairo governorate occupies the first rank in the rates of confirmed cases in Egypt with about 7,000 cases, followed by Giza governorates with nearly 3000 recorded cases. Egypt is implementing 14-day quarantine periods and other preventative measures. There were claims that when patients called the emergency services number there is either a delay or no response. A new mobile application Sehet Misr (Egypt’s health) was launched in April to advise whether cases require hospital care or self-isolated at home depending on symptoms, to offer medical advice to raise people’s awareness to prevent infection.
Source: Author’s calculations based on World Bank Indicators
To what extent may social safety nets mitigate the potential effects of Covid-19? Egypt has been providing two separate schemes called “Takaful” and “Karama” (solidarity and dignity) since 2015 through the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MOSS) with the support of LE 6.32 billion (US$ 400 million) from the World Bank. Eligibility for Takaful is targeted on poor households with children under 18, while Karama targets poor older people, orphans and households living with disabilities. These schemes operate in 345 districts that contain 5630 villages in the 27 governorates. 85.6 per cent of the beneficiaries are women as shown in the pie chart, out of which 13.6 per cent are divorcees and widows, 6.7 per cent are people with disabilities, and 2.1 per cent are older people. This program serves 2.5 million household families in 2019 of a total of around 9 million individual households; men, women and children.
The desegregation of Takful and Karama beneficiaries by age in 2019 is shown in the figure below. This shows that only 0.5 per cent of the beneficiaries of this program are aged 65 or over. The low numbers of older people are covered by these schemes is mainly because the large majority of this age group already receive pensions from the MOSS. The 53,305 older people receiving benefits from these safety net programmes are likely to be the poorest of the poor, either lacking pensions or living in large households where their pension income is shared across large numbers of people.
Sources: Author’s calculations based on Data from MOSS (2019)
To offset the repercussions of Covid-19 on poor, older and working classes households, the Minister of MOSS, announced in March that 100,000 new households would be added to Takaful and Karam, and that the value of benefits would be raised 3 times from EGP 350 (US$ 22) a month to EGP 950 (US$ 66). However, the MOSS did not specify the number of the newly enrolled for Karama households that contain older people. A needs assessment should be rolled out during the pandemic for older people, especially the poor ones.
Additionally, in April 2020, the MOSS announced several proposals and scenarios for pensioners in order to reduce crowding in national social insurance offices, as well as 4,350 outlets, post offices and 10,000 automated teller machines. One category (pensioners who earn LE 1000 or less) were paid on specific days of the month (Wednesday, 1st; Thursday, 2nd; and Saturday, 4th of April). This category accounts for 2.4 million pensioners. A second category, those with monthly pensions worth between LE 1000 and LE 2000, were be paid on Sunday, 5th; Monday, 6th; and Tuesday, 7th of April. They are accounted for 2.5 million pensioners. And a third category, with pensions worth more than LE 2000 were paid days Wednesday, 8th; and Thursday, 9th of April. This group accounts for 1.8 million people. As of Sunday, 12th of April, pensioners of any category who had not been able to collect pensions until that date could collect them whenever they wished from the designated outlets.
The Ministry decided, exceptionally, to allow the use of all pension cards that had previously been suspended due to not following a required update and reactivation carried out every 6 months. The Central Bank of Egypt agreed to cancel all the fees and commissions applied to pension withdrawal from ATMs for a period of 6 months in order to reduce overcrowding in designated pension offices. The Ministry has provided chairs and benches in front of designated offices for pensioners to wait their turn in shaded areas. In some pension collection offices, young adults have volunteered to provide preventive measures such as hand sterilization for pensioners.
Civil society has joined government efforts to fight the pandemic by distributing face masks, sterile materials, and sterilising streets. Also, one of biggest charities in Egypt, the Resala Charity Organization, has supported the government’s efforts by launching a charity challenge, which raised more than LE 3 million (US$ 189, 873) to assist households impacted during the pandemic, including the poor older people. Several Egyptian celebrities have participated in this challenge and contributed by around LE 1 million (US$ 63,291). Moreover, religious institutions have also joined the government’s effort to confront this outbreak. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar El-Sharief, has donated LE 5 million (US$ 316,455), in support of Egypt’s Covid-19 efforts. In Alexandria, the Coptic Orthodox Church has also donated LE 3 million (US$ 189,873), as a contribution for the purchase of ventilators.
The same ministry is responsible for regulating residential care facilities for older people in Egypt. Available data about these facilities are very limited. In 2016 a national newspaper reported that there were at least 174 such facilities in Egypt, containing around 3,500 older people. It will be important to monitor the situation in these facilities as the pandemic progresses.