Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Hidden fortunes of therapeutic tourism

Egypt is a treasure trove for tourists seeking climatic physiotherapy, but it is not receiving its fair share of the limelight, says Rasha Sadek

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was right in more ways than one. He surely didn’t disappoint when, before he died in 399 BCE, he said Egypt’s climate could help cure numerous ailments caused by Europe’s cold and humid weather.

More recently, in his book Egypt and Climatic Therapy, the creator of climatic physiotherapy wrote that many parts of Egypt had what it takes in terms of favourable environmental phenomena for healing where conventional medicine fails.

To this day, Egypt’s climatotherapeutic potential is almost limitless. With over 1,300 natural springs, the clay and minerals of which can help cure bone, skin and respiratory diseases, and sea and sand that can help treat psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis combined with countless tourist attractions, the country has more than what it takes to be a prominent destination for therapeutic tourism.

In other words, therapeutic tourism in Egypt can be a sort of physical and spiritual cleansing right to the bones.

However, Egypt is not in the limelight when it comes to therapeutic tourism, especially after the 25 January Revolution destabilised the economy and sent the number of tourists flocking to the country spiralling down. Other countries like Jordan and Israel have managed to promote themselves as premium tourist destinations that double in treating illnesses even though they lack many of the factors Egypt possesses.

Egypt is not receiving its fair share of attention when it comes to therapeutic tourism. “In 2015, the Gulf countries spent $27 billion out of a total of $100 billion worldwide on therapeutic tourism,” Bandar bin Fahd, head of the Arab Tourism Organisation, said at a press conference announcing a therapeutic tourism seminar in Sharm El-Sheikh in November.

“The Czech Republic and a number of Southeast Asian countries have stolen the spotlight from Egypt in a type of tourism that constitutes between five and 10 per cent of the total of travel movements globally,” he added.

Revenues from therapeutic tourism in Egypt could reach $2 billion if kick-started in the right direction. Sami Mahmoud, head of the Egyptian Tourism Development Authority, said that “tourists arriving in Egypt for climatotherapy stay longer than regular tourists. They could stay up to four or six weeks and are usually accompanied by a chaperon, which translates into double the revenues.

“Most of these patients are also advised by their doctors to come back from time to time to make sure their illnesses don’t appear again,” he added.

According to Nancy Ahmed, assistant professor of guiding tourism, “the Dead Sea is Egypt’s closest competitor, but it has a number of drawbacks. The permanent sunshine in cities like Safaga is good for healing ailments, while at the Dead Sea there’s no sunshine during the autumn or winter. In addition, because the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 400m below sea level, patients suffering from heart, liver and kidney diseases, tuberculosis, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, epilepsy and nerve diseases could be negatively affected while having therapy there.

“The Dead Sea also contains a high concentration of bromine, a substance that can cause skin sensitivity and allergic outbreaks in some people,” Ahmed said.

Awad Tageddin, a former minister of health, told the media that “Egypt should hold and take part in travel seminars and conferences. There should be further cooperation on the part of the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Authority to compete with the Dead Sea on therapeutic tourism, because we are far better at it.

“Certain factors are essential to successful climatotherapy zones, including altitude, atmospheric pressure, humidity, ionic ratios, soil composition, temperature and the strength of ultraviolet rays from the sun. All these factors are in place in Egypt,” he added.

Among the locations that could offer far more in terms of therapeutic tourism than they are at present are the following:

 

SAFAGA: This Red Sea city 60km south of Hurghada is famed as a location where rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, a chronic skin disease, can be successfully treated.

The city is shielded by high mountains that act as barriers against the wind and sand storms, and as a result the air is pure of the suspended particles that can divert or absorb the ultraviolet rays which are basic to psoriasis therapy. Since the beach at Safaga takes the shape of a sheltered bay, the sea does not have the kind of high waves that can prevent the reflection of ultraviolet rays.

Moreover, the abundance of coral reefs in this part of the Red Sea increases the saline level in the water by up to 35 per cent, in contrast to the 22 per cent of the Mediterranean. As the water density increases as a result of the salt in the water, the pull of gravity decreases, allowing bodies in the water to float more easily. For patients bathing in the sea, this can improve blood circulation, increasing the flow of blood to the limbs and the skin and helping to cure psoriasis.

In order to understand how nature can do wonders in healing, some further facts about Safaga are in order. Safaga’s black sand, a composition of clay collected from tidal areas and from the mountains near the Red Sea, contains three radioactive elements in very small concentrations. These elements, uranium, thorium and potassium, are highly effective in controlling rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic and progressive form of arthritis that causes inflammation in the joints.

Minerals, especially gold salts, are present in safe amounts in Safaga’s black sand, enhancing rheumatoid control. The sand has proven to be useful in treating acute and chronic arthritis, joint oedema, joint effusion and skin inflammation.

Lazing on the beach can help treat psoriasis. Instead of the steroid ointments that are often prescribed, along with artificial ultraviolet rays and powerful drugs that can have serious side effects on the skin, liver and immune system, exposure to sunlight and sea water is a healthy alternative.

Psoriasis can also have serious effects on patient psychology, the manager of one of Safaga’s hotels that takes part in climatotherapy, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Some clients feel shut off from the world because of their condition. When they come here, they find a welcoming community because we understand what they are suffering from. When they get better, more of their personality comes out, and they fall in love with the place, wanting more than ever to come back to it.”

Egypt’s National Research Centre (NRC) has conducted a field survey of Safaga that has revealed the extreme rarity of rheumatoid arthritis among inhabitants at 0.014 per cent, as compared with the international level of one per cent. Sufferers from psoriasis among residents are calculated at 0.08 per cent, as opposed to the international average of one to three per cent.

According to research conducted by the NRC, 16 rheumatoid arthritis patients were treated in Safaga. The 15-day study revealed that when covered in a 5cm layer of Safaga’s black sand for three hours a day (two hours in the morning and an hour before sunset), clinical improvements were seen among 75 per cent of patients. “Moreover, about 60 per cent showed a significant fall in their erythrocyte sedimentation rate,” a key measure of inflammation, the NRC report stated.

Safaga has been put on the American Rheumatism Association’s list of therapeutic locations as meeting the criteria needed for treating rheumatic diseases. The NRC studies also showed that 90 per cent of 80 patients ill with psoriasis and on no medical drugs were cured over four weeks of treatment.

The city’s picturesque white beach with its silhouette of gigantic mountains in the background and pure azure water, along with air that has been detoxified of almost all impurities, make Safaga an excellent place to go for therapeutic tourism. A winter resort for travellers and a summer retreat for patients, the permanent sunshine and dry weather of the city provide for a wide range of activities.

 

SIWA: Not only is the Siwa Oasis in the Western Desert one of the most magical places to visit in Egypt, it is also a highly recommended site for therapy for certain ailments.

Gabal Al-Dakrour 5km southwest of the centre of the oasis is the healthiest place in Siwa. Patients are treated in the hot sands of this mountain area by being buried in them, helping to treat rheumatic pains and general weakness. The pure mineral water of Siwa’s springs helps treat kidney stones.

There are two hot springs in Siwa where temperatures reach 35 degrees Celsius, the Cleopatra Spring and Bir Wahed 18km away in the neighbouring Great Sand Sea. The waters of the springs contain sulphur, and this can help in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

There is no reason why patients travelling to Siwa for treatment should not also enjoy the majestic scenery of the oasis, which offers activities for every mood. In the morning, visitors can go on a safari, exploring the Great Sand Sea on a horse or camel, and later in the day they can watch the sunset from the top of a sand mountain, and sand-board or parasail their way down. They can go swimming or diving in one of the springs, have dinner in one of town’s restaurants, or take tea in a baladi coffee shop, all the while calmly watching life pass by.

Siwa itself is like a painting. In the background is the Gabal Shali that is lit at night by spotlights reflecting shades of green, yellow, blue and brown on the ruins of what were once the ancient houses of the Siwan people.

 

FAYOUM: A two-hour drive from the capital, Fayoum is a city with much to offer. Those wanting to escape the noise and crowds of Cairo, to engage in an array of activities, or to treat ailments that the area is famed for treating, should make Fayoum their destination.

The Fayoum Depression has played an important role in every culture that historically has swept through Egypt, from the Pharaohs to the Greeks and Romans, the Coptic Christians and finally the Muslim Arabs. Beyond its human history, the area has long been distinguished by its natural beauty, including its lakes, palm trees, pristine desert areas, fossil remains, bird sanctuaries, and rural quiet, offering unmatched natural richness to visitors.

Besides being known for the Temple of Qasr Qaroun, the Hawara Pyramid and the area’s iconic water wheels — there are more than 200 in Fayoum — the city is home to Lake Qaroun, Egypt’s largest salt water lake that is known for its healing powers. The salts and minerals in the lake are highly effective in the treatment of gout, a disease in which the defective metabolism of uric acid causes arthritis, especially in the smaller bones of the feet.

 

ASWAN: Since ancient times, Aswan’s natural resources have been known for their therapeutic powers. Inscriptions on the walls of the Kom Ombo Temple in Aswan testify to the healing capacities of the environment, and the ancient pharaohs used to bury aching body parts in Aswan’s sands to relieve pains resulting from rheumatism, arthritis, joint swelling and skin inflammation.

Today, beside the solariums available at some physiotherapy centres in Aswan, sand burial and sun-bathing are still practised to treat rheumatism and rheumatoid arthritis. The dry weather contributes to the treatment of bronchial asthma. Studies have shown that further south the area surrounding the Abu Simbel Temples, which enjoys a high rate of ultraviolet rays and low humidity from December to March, provides a suitable environment for healing various skin and respiratory illnesses. Nubians in this area still practise traditional medicine, using herbs to treat the common cold, urinary tract diseases and dysentery.

Aswan is located at the foot of the Nile Valley north of Lake Nasser. It is a favoured tourist destination and a major stop for cruise boats on the Nile. There are several local markets that appeal to holiday shoppers and spice vendors that sell some of the best types of fresh herbs and spices.

In addition to dozens of historical sites to visit in and around Aswan, including the Philae Temples, the Tombs of the Nobles, the Temple of Horus, the Saint Simeon Monastery and the Botanical Gardens on Kitchener Island, there are also the Saluga and Ghazal Islands which are home to 94 bird species and are perfect for birdwatching aficionados.

 

SINAI: When it comes to climatotherapy and the Sinai Peninsula, two places immediately come to mind: Oyoun Moussa and Hammam Pharaon.

Oyoun Moussa is located in the capital of South Sinai at Al-Tor. The Oyoun, or springs, are a scenic site covered in palm trees surrounding a natural hot spring the water of which is saline and enjoys a high concentration of minerals. There are 12 springs in Oyoun Moussa known for their ability to help heal wounds, especially in diabetic patients, relieve stress and regulate high blood pressure.

Hammam Pharaon, or Pharaoh’s Bath, is a complex of hot sulfuric springs that have a natural temperature of 27 degrees Celsius. The water from the springs flows directly from the Sinai mountains into a 100m lake close to the Red Sea. A small cave has been carved in the mountain as a natural sauna. Research has shown that the water of this cave, the Hammam Pharaon, can help heal kidney diseases, lung inflammation, skin diseases and rheumatoid pains. However, because the water is high in sulphur, it may have a slightly unpleasant smell.

Those in Sinai seeking physiotherapy should also take some time out to enjoy what the rest of the peninsula has to offer. Sinai is a treasure trove for travellers. Cities like Sharm El-Sheikh, Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba on the azure Red Sea have a wide array of activities like diving, snorkelling, safaris and Bedouin adventures. 

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