CAMEROON – While thousands of people struggle to access vital healthcare in the restive North-West region of Cameroon, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is still denied the resumption of its healthcare care services in the region, six months after the forced suspension of its activities by Cameroonian authorities.
MSF is calling on the government of Cameroon to immediately lift this suspension and prioritise the medical needs of the population.
In 2018, in agreement with Cameroon’s Ministry of Health, MSF launched an emergency response to the critical health situation in the North-West and South-West regions by supporting health facilities, setting up the only free 24/7 ambulance services and supporting community health volunteers in order to reach remote populations and those struggling to access healthcare facilities.
On 8 December 2020, MSF was suspended from working in the North-West region as Cameroonian authorities accused the NGO of being too close to non-state armed groups in the area.
Despite months of discussions to respond to these allegations, MSF has been unable to restart its operations, leaving tens of thousands of people without access to lifesaving free health care.
“Vital medical services have been denied for six months now, and this is taking an unacceptable toll on Cameroonian citizens, many of whom have fled to the bush, unable to bear the sights, sounds and threats of violence any longer,” says Emmanuel Lampaert, MSF operations coordinator for Central Africa.
A massive health crisis
While armed violence and violations of human rights have made the headlines in the past years, the impact of this crisis on people’s basic medical needs has often been overlooked in the international media.
However, according to the latest UN figures, the flare up of violence in the anglophone regions of Cameroon has pushed more than 700,000 people to flee their homes, while over 60,000 have fled to neighboring Nigeria.
Today, people’s living conditions are massively affected by the crisis and over 1.4 million people are considered in need of humanitarian support in North-West and South-West Cameroon.
While MSF teams have treated patients for rape, torture, burns and gunshots, the vast majority of patients have been those in need of medical assistance for childbirth, malaria or diarrhea, especially displaced communities.
Last year, MSF-supported community health workers conducted over to 150,000 consultations for communities in both regions.
Insecurity and restriction of humanitarian space
The support provided by MSF and other humanitarian organizations proved to be all the more vital as insecurity and attacks on staff have limited the number of organizations present to provide lifesaving services.
In 2020, MSF teams in the North-West region treated 180 survivors of sexual violence; 1,725 mental health consultations were provided; 3,272 surgeries were performed; 4,407 patients were referred by ambulance, of which more than 1,000 were women in labor; 42,578 consultations were provided by community health volunteers, mostly for malaria, diarrhea and respiratory tract infections.
Present in many countries where government forces and non-state armed groups clash, MSF is committed to its charter which requires the provision of health care without discrimination or heed to political or religious affiliations, race or gender.