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Photo: Cairo Scene.
Last fall, the Mersal Foundation, a health-care nonprofit in Egypt, received one large award from AstraZeneca for its work with lung cancer patients and another to aid those afflicted with the Coronavirus.

When I read a story like today’s, which is about a nonprofit that’s filling the gaps in a health-care system, I think of my favorite Allen Ginsberg poem:

“When Music was needed, Music sounded
“When a ceremony was needed, a teacher appeared
“When students were needed, telephones rang
“When cars were needed, wheels rolled in …”

It reminds that good people can make things happen.

Sudarsan Raghavan reported recently at the Washington Post, “The pleas for help were flooding in. By 2 p.m., Raba Mokhtar was picking up the 131st call of the day to the Mersal Foundation’s 24-hour hotline. Like the vast majority, it was related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“On the other end of the line, a woman was frantically describing the condition of a relative, a 67-year-old man who had tested positive for the virus. He had a 100-degree fever and could hardly breathe. They had first tried the Health Ministry’s hotline to look for a bed in a government hospital, with no luck. …

“In a country where government health resources can be either stretched or inadequate and where most people cannot afford hospitalization, a once little-known charity has become a lifeline for thousands of Egyptians. For the past year, and especially during the latest coronavirus wave, the Mersal Foundation has contracted and paid for beds in private hospitals or provided oxygen tanks to people in need.

“Mersal and its founder, Heba Rashed, have become so trusted that more than a quarter-million people now follow her social media accounts to learn the true impact of the pandemic in Egypt. …

“Egypt has reported about 165,000 infections and 9,100 deaths since the start of the outbreak. Medical experts and even government ministers have publicly said the real numbers are far higher.

“Doubts among the public deepened in January when a video went viral online claiming that coronavirus patients at a government hospital had died because of a lack of oxygen. The government denied the report, but a week later Sissi ordered a doubling of oxygen production to meet increased demand.

“Against this backdrop, the Mersal Foundation has emerged as a trusted oasis of care. And Rashed, 40, has become a coronavirus prognosticator for her legions of followers.  

‘It makes me feel very responsible for every word I utter,’ she said. ‘People get affected by everything I say.’

“Growing up in Jordan and the Egyptian desert town of Fayoum, Rashed never intended to start a charity. In college, she studied Spanish and Arabic and later earned a master’s degree in linguistics and several diplomas in other fields. She later worked as a linguist and as a project manager. In her spare time, she volunteered at a local charity.

“Soon, Rashed said, she realized she had ‘no passion’ for her job and found her charitable work more fulfilling. She also noticed there were few nonprofit groups in Egypt specializing in health issues. So with two friends, she launched Mersal five years ago. ‘It was truly hard at the start,’ Rashed recalled. ‘We had no connections.’

“Eventually, they found a sympathetic donor. He gave roughly $1,300, and they set up the charity in Rashed’s apartment. Slowly they grew, soliciting donations mostly on social media. They began to get noticed by some larger donors.

“Today, the foundation has four offices in Cairo and one in the northern city of Alexandria, with roughly 200 employees, according to Rashed. …

“ ‘The second wave is much more vicious than the first one, in terms of the intensity of the infection,’ Rashed said. ‘The number of infections is bigger than the last wave. The symptoms are much more.’

“She was infected. So were more than half of her 100 employees in the office, forcing mass isolations. ‘It made it very hard to do our work,’ Rashed said matter-of-factly. …

“The case of the 67-year-old man who had been struggling to breathe was typical. His oxygen levels were extremely low, though he was using a tank. … Mokhtar, the employee who took the call, asked the man’s relative to send a complete medical report, X-rays of his lungs and any bloodwork. Mokhtar gave her the WhatsApp number.

“ ‘We will show them to the medical department, and we will get you a bed when one becomes available,’ Mokhtar said. ‘Peace be with you.’

“Finding a bed usually takes a few hours but can stretch into a day or two, employees said. … The foundation has contracted with more than 30 private hospitals. In some cases, patients who need help getting care can pay some or all costs. Mostly, though, the charity pays as much as $1,300 per day for hospital beds in intensive care units, money obtained in large part through online appeals for donations.”

More at the Washington Post, here. Grateful stories may be found at the Mersal Foundation Facebook page, here,

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