Editorial: Untold sufferings of NW, SW residents!.

Suffering Anglophone crisis displaced persons

The visceral impact of the savage conflict in the North West and South West Regions is often illustrated with the graphics of extrajudicial killings, kidnapping for ransom and "ghost towns" on Mondays.

But in the dusk of those atrocities are the hidden challenges faced by residents of the conflict-plagued Regions in accessing basic healthcare and cost of services.

A report published on Tuesday by the Malaria Consortium, one of the world's leading non-profit organisations specialised in the prevention, control and treatment of malaria, noted that: "Ongoing armed conflict in the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon has severely disrupted access to healthcare, with 29 percent of health facilities no longer functioning. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are particularly vulnerable, facing higher risks of contracting malaria due to poor living conditions and limited access to prevention and treatment services”.

According to the Severe Malaria Observatory, in Cameroon, "malaria is responsible for 50 percent of hospitalisations in health facilities with 65 percent of cases being children under five years of age".

Overall, Cameroon is among the 15 highest burden malaria countries, with 2.7% of all global malaria cases and deaths, and 2.3% of malaria deaths in 2021; this represents the 3rd highest number of malaria cases in Central Africa (12% of cases in 2021).

The Observatory also explained that suspected malaria cases caused 30% of all medical consultations, and 21% of visits to health facilities resulted in a diagnosis of laboratory-confirmed malaria.

National statistics from 2015 note that in health facilities, 19% of deaths were attributed to malaria, and 48% of all hospital admissions were due to the suspicion of severe malaria. The country recorded more than 3 million cases and over 3,800 deaths in 2021. 

Another report by the World Health Organisation, WHO, notes that malaria is highly endemic in Cameroon, with an "entire population of 27 million people exposed to the disease on a regular basis".

Every year, the country registers around six million cases of malaria, and health facilities record about 4,000 deaths, most of which occur in children below the age of five.

However, not all cases and deaths are recorded, and WHO estimates that "about 11,000 people die from malaria in Cameroon every year. Around 30% of all out-patient visits to healthcare facilities are for malaria". 

Faced with those bleak challenges, the Ministry of Public Health and other stakeholders such as World Health Organisation, WHO, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative have been grappling to solve the problem through mobilising communities to help prevent and control malaria.

The National Malaria Control Programme and the Ministry of Public Health launched a malaria vaccine early this year as one of the efforts to scale up vaccination against the disease in high risk areas.

The vaccine was rolled out across 42 health districts in the country’s 10 Regions in public and private health facilities. The launch came with the Ministry of Public Health noting that the vaccine is an additional tool for malaria control. 

“It has been chosen by the country based on its pre-qualification, ensuring guaranteed quality, efficacy and safety for inclusion in the vaccination programme,” said Dr Shalom Ndoula, Permanent Secretary of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation in Cameroon. 

“It will specifically target all children aged six months as of 31 December 2023,” Dr Ndoula added. 

The Guardian Post takes note that the salutary measures taken testify to government's commitment to tackle the killer disease nationwide.

However, because of the fighting in the two English-speaking Regions, most of the residents are left in the lurch to die in misery.

Last Tuesday's study, funded by Expertise France, the French agency that designs and implements international technical cooperation projects, and led by Reach Out Cameroon, alongside Malaria Consortium and Konmofamba Action Sans Frontière, took note of the dire situation in the war-torn regions.

Though the Ministry of Public Health implemented a Community Health Strategy, deploying community health workers to provide malaria care services in the Regions, the study identified several barriers of insecurity limiting services, including poor availability of health workers in some communities, stockouts of diagnostic tests, treatments, and cost of treatment being unaffordable for many of the residents in perilous zones.

Those in the risky zones, mostly in rural enclaves, are just abandoned to themselves even without traditional healers, most of whom have relocated to urban areas for fear of being accused of treating separatist fighters, and punished.

By identifying specific challenges to residents of the North West and South West Regions who have defied fear to remain, while others have fled to refugee camps or are internally displaced, the research provides valuable insights for policymakers and health organisations working to improve malaria control efforts.

The Guardian Post, in that context, urges the government to provide security for community health workers so that they can treat patients in the two Regions, whose plight has been neglected by the cruel conflict in the North West and South West Regions for seven years and still counting.


This story was first published in The Guardian Post issue No:3151 of Thursday June 27, 2024


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