Heba Elsewedy

Helping Burn Victims and Much More

Ahl Masr is one of the most important charitable foundations in Egypt dedicated to improving the health and well being of Egyptians. Founded by Dr. Heba Elsewedy, Ahl Masr is building the first hospital in Egypt devoted to treating burn victims, regardless of their ability to pay. Elsewedy has also impacted and helped save thousands of lives through her untiring efforts to make sure hospitals had the medical equipment and protective gear they need during the current pandemic. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey caught up with Elsewedy at the Ahl Masr headquarters to learn more about the foundation’s work and its plans for the future. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Did you always have the urge to help other people?
I always wanted to do something big and have an impact, but I never imagined that I would have my own charity foundation/hospital helping this huge number of people. I never had all this in mind, really.

How does it feel now, watching all this happen?
I’m so proud to be serving this cause. I’m so honoured and grateful to be doing something as important as this, and helping so many burn victims feel better, physically and mentally. I feel such satisfaction when I can help someone. It also comforts me when I think that all the people I helped will pray for me when I die.

When did you decide to focus on helping burn victims?
It started when I helped a lot of people during the time of the 2011 revolution. I realised then that we were able to help people with bullet injuries, but we were helpless when it came to burn victims, and they mostly ended up dying. The reason is that hospitals in Egypt are not properly equipped to treat burn victims. I went on to do extensive research about burn victims in Egypt and found out that, somehow, this problem has been neglected. People don’t know how to deal with burn victims and there are not enough places in hospitals that deal with these victims. I found out that almost 70% of burn victims die within the first seven hours of their injury, and 60% of them die within the first week. That is because there is no infection control for these cases. When you hear the stories of these victims, you feel that there may be no other illness that affects families the way burns do. In most cases, the victims who remain alive become handicapped and continue to suffer.

Ahl Masr also offers psychological help for burn victims and their families. Tell us more about that…
A huge part of our program is to cure burn victims psychologically. We offer them and their families psychological rehabilitation. As we dig into victims’ cases, we discover the deeper causes at the toot of the problems they face. For instance, we found out that a huge percentage of our patients are women and children who are victims of violence. A huge part of the rehabilitation process is to teach the parents how to deal with their children.
Thankfully, we have success stories of children who had passed through terrible experiences. One example is a victim called Salma, whose father threw acid at her. We have successfully done thirty operations on Salma, and she’s doing well now. We also took the opportunity of the visit by the Egyptian celebrity, Mohamed Ramadan, to the hospital, to give Salma some media training to help her get on the stage to tell her story. She also got to appear on television without being ashamed of herself. Salma’s case is a real success story. Another success story is that of Basmallah, who came to us last January. Basmallah was sitting in a barn with her cousin, when it was set on fire. She couldn’t move her hands and her feet. At first, she wouldn’t speak to us. However, now, after the physical rehabilitation and several operations, while Basmallah, is still handicapped, she is better than before. We like to call her “Basma” because her smile spreads happiness all over the place. Basmallah is a fighter. She has dreams and about going on a plane to travel around the world.

What’s the process if someone wants to seek your help?
We can be contacted either through our website and social media, or by leaving the name of the patient and his status with our call center. We also get to know of cases through referrals from acquaintances as well as by our village development campaigns which we do with our medical convoys. When a patient contacts the call center, the case is immediately transferred to our medical team. Each case is cared for individually through operations and other techniques, until the patient is finally cured. They rebuild lost body parts and do operations like cornea transplants. To treat burn victims a real trauma center is needed. It has to have all the medical departments, so that it can perform all kinds of operations.

How did the pandemic affect Ahl Masr, and how did you overcome its effects?
2020 gave us the honour to help our country and our government deal with the pandemic. During COVID-19, we switched all our capacities to help fight virus. We were able to provide respirators and intensive care devices to all parts of the country to help treat victims of the virus. We also equipped three quarantine buildings with the help of my father’s organisation. Several banks also helped us transform buildings into quarantine hospitals. We also worked with factories to produce protective medical clothing and medical kits for doctors and nurses. This helped save the lives of up to 100,000 doctors all over Cairo. We also helped produce and distribute face shields, and successfully increased their product lines. We also motivated some Egyptian young people to produce protective clothing using nanotechnology fabric, which is reusable for up to 40 times. This helped us avoid the crisis that Europe and America went through. We also succeeded in sponsoring cases in private hospitals. With the help of Maissa Azzab, we also secured the help of several designers, like Hany El-Beheiry, Sara Onsi and many more, to produce quarantine bed sheets. Volunteers helped us in their distribution and packing. On another note, with the help of Elsewedy intelligence, we created an app that tracks the materials needed by hospitals based on the number of patients they have. During the past four to five months our efforts had a good impact on the fight against the pandemic.

Where would you like to see Ahl Masr in 10 years?
Definitely, I want Ahl Masr to have two more hospitals, one in the south of Egypt and one in the Delta. I also want us to have satellite clinics all over Cairo. We are already working on telemedicine, to enable our team to monitor patients until they are stable. Last year we started an initiative called Humanity Burn Free, with the United Nations and we are now looking forward to organizing an international day for burn victims to raise awareness, the same way it is done for breast cancer and other terrible diseases and illnesses. I hope, one day, Ahl Masr becomes an umbrella that protects and helps all burn victims, globally.

How can people donate to your foundation?
You can donate through our website online, by SMS on 9899, through banks or and through our call center. We also send delegates to people’s houses to pick up donations.