By Joe Dinga Pefok 

Controversy is raging over a decision taken on May 13, by the Minister of Public Health, Manaouda Malachie, to shut down one of the biggest private health units in Douala, MARIE O, without consultation with the Cameroon Medical Council. The polyclinic, situated adjacent Hotel Somatel in Bali Quarters, Douala I Municipality, was effectively shut down in the afternoon of May 14 by Wouri SDO, Benjamin Mboutou, on the instruction of the Minister of Public Health.  

The issue reportedly started on May 6, when the Minister of Public Health received a complaint filed by a Lebanese family in Douala, saying that they had been given a bill of FCFA 6, 300,495 for the hospitalisation of one of theirs at Marie O Polyclinic. The family considered that the bill was too high. The Minister of Public Health sent a copy of the complaint to the Cameroon Medical Council, which is the governing body of the Cameroon association of medical practitioners, to investigate and get back to him.  

Upon receiving the complaint, the Cameroon Medical Council immediately went into action by issuing a query to the Proprietor/ Director of Marie O Polyclinic, Dr Roger Michel Ngoulla Kenllac, former Mayor of Mbouda, on Saturday, May 9. Dr Ngoula responded to the query on Monday, May 11.  

The Post learnt that, in his response, the Director of the polyclinic explained that the bill, which was prepared by the accounts department of the health unit, was the total of bills for six months of hospitalisation of a member of the Lebanese family, in the health unit. Worth noting, that the polyclinic also provides patients who are hospitalized with prescribed meals and fruits.  

After receiving Dr Ngoulla’s response on May 11, the Cameroon Medical Council was expected to analyse the response as well as compare it with other information they should have gathered on the matter from other sources and then send the result of their investigation to the Minister of Public Health. The Minister would also then inform the Council about any related information he might have received from other sources. If according to the investigations, the management of Marie O is found to have committed faults, the Minister of Public Health will concert with the Cameroon Medical Council on the different sanctions that could be slammed on health unit. 

Family Rejects Result Of Medical Tests 

A drama occurred at the same Mario O Polyclinic on May 11. The family of one Maurice Nyamsi had brought him to the health unit on May 7, with his medical report showing that he had, from 2015, suffered from stroke thrice, and as well had high blood pressure.   

According to what Nyamsi’s family told the media in Douala on May 11, they had earlier, May 7, first taken him to the Military Hospital at Bonanjo in Douala I where he used to go for treatment. The hospital, after examining him, told the family to take him to the Douala General Hospital, complaining that they did not have oxygen. At the General Hospital in Douala V, the family was told that there was no oxygen, and was advised to go to Marie O Polyclinic in Douala I.  

Upon arrival at the polyclinic, they were asked to pay a deposit of FCFA 1 million, which they did not have. They pleaded and deposited FCFA 750,000. But, according to the family, they were embarrassed when they came to complete the deposit on May 9, and the medical personnel told them that their father had coronavirus. The family refused to pay the FCFA 250,000 which was the balance of the deposit, in protest against the result of the tests that was presented to them. They insisted that Nyamsi did not have COVID- 19, and that the health problem he had was a stroke and high blood pressure.   

Why COVID-1 (Tests Were Conducted) 

According to the Director of Marie O, the medical team that received Nyamsi at the polyclinic on May 7 could not understand why both the Military Hospital and the General Hospital told the family that he needed oxygen. After a close physical examination of the patient, the medical team decided that scanning should be done to check the situation of his lungs. The result indicated an advanced stage of COVID-19.

The health unit got in touch with the Laquintinie Hospital which is one of the main hospitals designated by Government to handle COVID–19 cases in Douala. But the response from Laquitinie was that there was no space for a new patient in the COVID-19 Section of the hospital. While the polyclinic was waiting for the Laquintinie Hospital to signal when space will be available, Nyamsi, died early on May 11. The polyclinic immediately informed local health authorities.      

Fight Over Corpse In The Streets 

Informed of the death of Nyamsi, over three dozen members of his family came to Marie O Polyclinic on that May 11 to take away his corpse for burial in the village, insisting that he did not die of COVID-19. The management of the polyclinic insisted that Nyamsi died of COVID -19, and that, according to Government’s instruction, anybody that dies in Cameroon from COVID-19 is buried by a special team, because the corpse is very contagious, and if poorly handled, many other people could be infected with the virus.  

Nyamsi’s family forcefully took the corpse out of the polyclinic and put it in a taxi which they hired, and took off towards the residence of the deceased. The management of the polyclinic quickly informed local health officials, who alerted the gendarmerie. A squad of gendarmerie elements was dispatched to go after the family and get back the corpse. The gendarmes caught up with the Nyamsi family and a drama sparked off in the streets of Douala, as the gendarmes and the Nyamsi tussled over the corpse. The granddames finally succeeded to get the corpse and took it back to the clinic, to wait for the health team that had to come and collect it for burial.                         

Meanwhile, the Director of Marie O Polyclinic officially wrote to the Littoral Delegate of Public Health on May 13, to brief him on the incident of May 11. Dr Ngoulla disclosed that, before forcefully taking away the corpse of late Nyamsi, some members of the Nyamsi family met him and proposed a secret deal for him to be given money to issue a death certificate with falsified information, claiming that he died instead of stroke. The Director pushed them away.                            

Minister’s Surprise Decision 

On May 13, the Cameroon Medical Council was taken aback when the Minister of Public Health, without any consultation with the Council, issued an order for the shutting down of Marie O Polyclinic. The Minister, who was certainly referring to the incident that happened at the polyclinic and in the street of Douala on May 11 linked to the death of Nyamsi, accused Marie O polyclinic of illegally handling COVID–19 cases, whereas it was not one of the health units designated by Government to handle COVID–19 cases. All the five health units designated in Douala to handle COVID-19 cases are public health units. 

The Cameroon Medical Council fumed that the Minister did not follow laid down procedure, which would have meant consulting with the Council and getting the side of the Director of Marie O Polyclinic. Members of the Cameroon Association of Medical Practitioners in Douala who all condemned the decision of the Minister immediately announced a protest demonstration on May 14. However, on the evening of May 13, the Secretary General of the Cameroon Medical Council issued a communiqué asking medical doctors in Douala to call off the protest demonstration. He assured medical doctors that the Council will immediately take up the matter with the Government.  

Following the angry reaction of medical doctors in Douala, Minister Malachie tweeted, saying that the incident of May 11 was not the first matter in which Marie O Polyclinic had been indicted. He mentioned the complaint by the Lebanese family. 

The Cameroon Medical Council dismissed the Minister’s claim as a pretext. The Council reminded the Minister that the matter of the Lebanese family was under investigation and that it was wrong for him to present the Marie O Polyclinic as guilty of wrongdoing, at this stage.  

Hon Nintcheu‘s Reaction 

The SDO of Wouri who went to Marie O Polyclinic upon receiving the Public Health Minister’s instruction on May 13, could not immediately close the clinic, as there were over a dozen patients hospitalised there. He ordered management to transfer the patients to other health units the next morning. The Marie O Polyclinic, which occupies a large three-storey building and employs over 20 medical doctors, over 50 nurses as well as several other paramedical staff, was finally sealed by the Worui SDO at 2.00 pm on May 14. 

As Member of Parliament, MP, Jean Michel Nintcheu, who is also the Littoral Regional Chairman of the SDF, blasted Minister Manaouda Malachie for having, according to him, demonstrated incompetence, recklessness and wickedness in his unilateral decision to shut down Marie O Polyclinic. Hon Nintcheu, who pointed out that Dr Malachie decided without having listened to the Director of the health unit, and also in flagrant violation of procedure which required him to consult with the Cameroon Medical Council, called on him to resign, arguing that he does not in any away merit that post.