Despite progress in the 20th century, particularly in the health of urban populations, services still lag behind the Egyptian population's needs, especially in rural areas. By the early 1990s the country had about 101,500 physicians and about 108,400 hospital beds (one for about every 550 people). Since the 1960s, the ministry of health has made concentrated efforts to establish “rural combined” centers, each serving about 15,000 to 20,000 people. The aim of the centers is to coordinate medical, educational, social, and agricultural services through village councils. Great progress has been made in stamping out cholera, smallpox, and malaria, but such diseases as bilharzia (a parasitical disease) remain widespread. A comprehensive social insurance program was begun in 1959 and has been greatly expanded since.
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