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Cameroon Elaborates Blueprint against Epidemics 

By Divine Ntaryike Jr — Scientists frequently point to Central Africa as the cradle of some the world’s most perplexing maladies and plagues.  Classically, the sub-region’s usually cash-strapped governments tend to bank on foreign aid when untracked deadly epidemics take them unawares and begin metamorphosing into pandemics.

In Cameroon, the authorities are striving to leap out of the pack.  The Ministry of Health is fleshing up a strategy to shake off donor-dependence amid recurring widespread outbreaks of infectious diseases, including many relegated from the list of public health preoccupations several years ago.

The blueprint in gestation dubbed the Strategy Document to Guide the Prevention and Fight against Epidemics and Pandemics in Cameroon, fundamentally seeks to establish early detection and warning systems.  On the sidelines, the action plan envisages the creation of a National Emergency Support Fund to cut time spent waiting for donor-intervention during crises periods.

“We acknowledge the fact that government services charged with carrying out epidemiological surveillance to enable us engage effective and timely responses to epidemics and pandemics have not been sufficiently proactive,” Public Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda admitted as he unveiled the policy-change in late June.  He however did not state when the plan will hop from paper to reality.

But he stated that over the last two decades, “Cameroon has stubbornly remained a playground for raging epidemics, some of which have swept through the country, snuffing out thousands of lives and causing untold grief especially among the poorest segments of the population.”

Over 1,500 people have so far been killed by a cholera scourge that erupted in May 2010 infecting 35,000 nationwide; 191 persons out of 2700 reported cases died of meningitis in 2011 while 37 others died of measles from a total 1,500 declared cases.  Elsewhere figures from the Ministry of Public Health indicate bulging polio and TB drug resistance, increasing numbers of patients with yellow and viral hemorrhagic fevers as well as a growing incidence of zoonotic diseases.

Health experts across the country and beyond have been heaping praise on the government for the policy-switch.  They say it should be emulated by other countries in the sub-region where epidemics easily cut across borders, and especially as the Eurozone debt crisis and economic meltdown elsewhere worldwide implies donor funds will continue to thin out. 

Prof Paul Herrling of the Novartis Institutes for Developing World Medical Research has frequently urged African governments to substantially raise their health budgetary allocations to the prevention and control of epidemics.  “The budgets they usually allocate to health is usually very small and so it’s rather difficult for them to autonomously conduct permanent surveillance,” he told participants at a conference on TB monitoring in the Cameroonian capital Yaoundé recently.

This year, the Ministry of Public Health got only a 7-percent share of Cameroon’s 2012 state budget which stood at US$5, 6 billion.  That’s way below the 15 percent allocation recommended by African leaders at an AU summit held in Abuja in 2001.  Officials say only a skimpy fraction of that amount has been apportioned the Secretariat of State for the Fight against Epidemics and Pandemics created after a December 2011 cabinet reshuffle.

Nonetheless, Minister Fouda says the epidemics combat strategy will lobby for more funding from the government, the private sector and local government structures.  “We will use the money to reinforce human resources capacities, set up permanent epidemiological monitoring services nationwide, render community health services ready to respond to crises in rapid and coherent manner, as well as set up coordination-intervention-evaluation structures,” he added.

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