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Cameroon’s free fall health system: Two videos shock the world

Aloysius AGENDIA

 There are two despicable videos of our health system currently doing the rounds on the World Wide Web. The two videos from the Francophone and Anglophone parts of Cameroon reiterate the urgent need for us to salvage our chronically sick health system. They showcase the thousand  of cases of  flaunt unprofessional, and unethical nature of our medical practitioners on one hand, the total flouting of our basic right to good health and, the mismanagement of our of health sector by a chain of people in the Ministry of Public Health. These videos aptly describe the bitter reality in Cameroon- the free fall health system. Watching a medical doctor totally indifferent as a patient dies and another medical doctor cum administrator demonstrate the terribly wanting nature of our hospital is indeed, unnerving. The videos have shocked the world but are “non event” in Cameroon or for those who are versed with the situation in Cameroon because such cases are too common in a government that has “sold shame and bought disgrace”.

 In Sweden for example, life expectancy is 83 years for women and 79 for men and it is expected to move to 86 and 83 in less than a decade from now. On the contrary, life expectancy in Cameroon is 50 and 48 years for women and men respectively and may likely to drop further from now. Good medical care is a contributing factor to good health and long life. What explains the terrible discrepancy when the Swedish health system overwhelming relies on government provided health services?  I talked to Dr Alsa who says the response is simply; proper management and organisation of the health sector both by hospital management, health officials, law makers and politicians. Everybody in the health sector does just what is expected of him or her and the laws and ethics are there to regulate everything.

 Do not think it is because Sweden is far richer. No. Cameroon can as well put in place such structures if there is political will. However, impunity has degenerated to total chaos to the extent that the health officials, nurses, doctor, mid-wives, lab technicians supposedly working to save the lives of patients, think it is no longer their primary duty, other than musing ways to extort desperate patients. Unlike Cameroon, a relatively far poorer country like Sierra Leone has launched a free medical care system for all pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and all children from five years and below.

 The bitter truth

This first video shot at the so called Regional Hospital in Limbe portrays the horrible state of the theatre of that hospital.  The room basically has nothing that a theatre should have and even the director of the said hospital is right there in the video to confirm it. The only additional items are disease-prone rusted metals and dirty planks. The theatre is just a reflection of how the whole hospital looks like. On the contrary, we have heard several stories of misappropriation of funds by officials of the South west regional health department and even those of the said hospital. The recruitment of totally unqualified personnel and the total lack of discipline among hospital staff is another factor behind the free fall of our health services. This case in Limbe can be logically generalised because it is just a replica of the public health system in Cameroon and if one is to go by the number of the testimonies which have been flowing following since the videos were released.

The second video shot by a New York Times reporter seemingly in the francophone part of the country shows a “medical doctor” in the public service who scornfully allows a pregnant woman to die because the said patient could not afford FCFA 50.000 upfront payment before her treatment could begin. Even when the reporter together with others provide cash and blood for the operation, the doctor who can be very well seen in the video, had already vamoosed by the time the cash and other items were ready. He resurfaces the next days to carry out the operation when it was already too late. Watching the video can not stop any from crying or revolting in his own way against the failed system. This is a clear case of manslaughter but the case has to die because the helpless victim’s family seem ignorant of their rights and have no groups to stand for them. They equally do not have the means and money chase files in the Cameroon’s equally chronically sick judicial system, hence - Case closed.

Recently, it was the bizarre story of the dead of quintuplets in Buea in a glaring case of professional dishonesty and sheer incompetence on the part of the Southwest Regional health officials. The last of the quintuplets to die was allegedly turned away when he was taken to one of the health-political outfit in Yaoundé.

 The will is absent

If the Cameroon government had they will, first, it could at least construct and equip regional and divisional state of the arts hospitals that would take care of its denizens. The issue of payment before service in emergency cases and some desperate situations would have been reviewed. But the lack of legislation or total violation of available legislation with impunity has led to chaos and driving Cameroon to a jungle and banana republic.

Many people claim that health personnel are poorly paid hence they need for them to make fast cash on patients.  Though that may be may true, the real problem is the disgruntlement of health personnel when they see many who earn just like them in the other sectors like education, taxes, customs, transports, etc construct villas, own expensive cars, huge bank accounts. The former equally want to construct their own villas and this gives room for embezzlement, and unethical attitudes. If workers of the other sectors were just of the same scale like them, without extra cash from doubtful sources, they would not have much to worry. But again, even if health workers were poor, the availability of proper equipment and training for the right personnel would save the situation to an extent.

 How much money is being spent on useless mission allowances and benefits by managers in our health sector? On the contrary, how much money is being judiciously spent on the purchase of equipment and training of the right personnel to use the equipment?

Due to the unfortunate situation in the public heath service, many people have turned to private health centres. The paradox here is that opportunists have rushed to creating a thousand and one health centres some of which operate in peoples' living homes and makeshift squalor. Charlatans in the name of traditional practitioners and private “conventional” health care providers are proliferating everywhere and selling dreams that they cure everything when their health structures do not even meet basic sanitary conditions. They have even taken private radio stations where they sell these dreams to people. Yet, the government cannot intervene in good faith stop them.

However, it will be difficult for the government to successfully stop patients from going to charlatans if the government cannot itself provide better services to the population. The protest of health officials in Douala April 07 against the proliferation of pseudo health institutions is a very genuine one. However, inasmuch as the government cracks down on those institutions, they must double efforts to provide better services.

A thank you to those saving the chronically sick health sector.

Some may want to disagree with this but the truth remains, if not of the Catholic church  and its health services together with those of a few missionaries such the Presbyterian and Baptists etc, the health sector in Cameroon would have already collapsed like the political system in Somalia or as the Zimbabwean economy did some months ago. From the Mary Health of Africa Hospital Fontem, to Bingo Baptist Hospital, Shisong Hospital, Achu Tugi  in the Northwest region, the population of Cameroon would have perished. From the Notre Dame Hospital in Douala to Saint John of Malta in Njombe, and other health services operated in Cameroon by the missionaries, a terrible thing would have happened. Take away the health facilities of the Catholic Church in Douala which has 2 full fleshed hospitals and 12 health centres and the population of Douala will reduce by half in a year. Even the plethoric private clinics which I have visited have nothing to offer neither ethics, nor good health service. All they want is money. It is high time the government at least intervene in the health sector and established to some order. But again, how will our rulers know the conditions in our hospitals when they do not use them? How can we expect any difference in the provision of health care when most of the workers from nurses, lab technicians, doctors, mid-wives etc bought their entrance into these schools or were recruited on family or party ties and not on merit? The end result can only be mediocrity.

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