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The Lows, Highs In Health In 2013 

By Leocadia Bongben — The health sector in 2013 had its low and high moments, though the low moments far out-weighed the highs.

Malaria: The major health issue that posed a serious challenge to Cameroonians was the malaria outbreak in the Far North. This was one of the issues Government grappled with as about 9,000 malaria cases were registered with about 1000 deaths.

Due to the increased number of people affected, there was lack of facilities in the hospitals and some malaria patients had to receive treatment under the trees. The malaria outbreak was caused by floods that encourage the breeding of mosquitoes. Government needs to rethink its policy in the fight against malaria in this region where extreme heat makes it difficult for the population to use treated bed-nets.

Though figures on the use of long lasting treated mosquito bed nets indicate that many sleep under nets, what many Cameroonians do not know is that the  about 8 million bed-nets distributed in 2010 would expire in 2014.However, the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS Malaria and Tuberculosis has already pledged to supply 12 million nets in 2014.

Besides the malaria outbreak and expiration of bed-nets, fake malaria drugs, “Coartem” found their way into the market.Though there was a warning for the population to watch out for certain serial numbers, there is need to intensify the fight against fake drugs in preserving the health of Cameroonians.

HIV/AIDS: Persons living with HIV/AIDS had to grapple with anti-retroviral drug stock-outs from the middle of the year in June. The stock-out was attributed to the increasing number of patients and lack of finances.Despite President Biya’s contribution and money from other sources amounting to about FCFA 20 billion, Government continued to ration the antiretroviral drugs.

There is hope that the FCFA 40 billion collected from business persons recently would go a long way to help in providing the drugs to the patients. But Government, besides collecting money from airport taxes and business persons, should think of increasing the budgetary allocation for health and ensure that the stock is well managed to prevent stock-outs and provide more storage facilities.

Maternal Mortality: Maternal mortality figures remained high despite the fact
That maternal mortality is reducing in other parts of the world. From 2010, 85 percent of pregnant women attended at least one ANC visit on average; 60 percent attended at least four, 35 percent attended the critical first quarter visit, 970,306 pregnant women expected every year in Cameroon, 4,500 women die every year from childbirth. WHO recommends at least four antenatal care (ANC) visits. Overall, in Cameroon there are 18 health providers/10,000 inhabitants which are below the minimal 23 health providers/10,000 recommended by WHO.

However, Government has started an initiative to reduce maternal mortality to start in some pilot hospitals. Also, Government announced standardising the amount of money paid for delivery at FCFA 5,000 per kid, unlike arbitrary payment in the past.

International Days: Mental Health Day, Tuberculosis Day and Diabetes were some of the international days that were not commemorated. Many wondered why these days were neglected given that the population has to be sensitised on prevention and treatment. Even if the days are sometimes observed only in the major cities. The Ministry had to grapple with fire incidents, one which destroyed part of the main building, and the Department for Disease Control, within a period of two weeks, causing damage to the buildings and documents.

Fight Against Illegal Health Units: The proliferation of illegal health units remain a problem in Cameroon. Some persons took the advantage of Government lapses to start Common Initiative Groups, commonly called GIC in the health sector. The GIC is authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture are not Public Health. The Ministry of Public Health has launched a campaign against illegal health units – an initiative to be evaluated in June 2014.

Health Minister’s Perception Of 2013

Providing the balance sheet of his ministry, Public Health Minister, Andre Mama  Fouda, rejoiced that his ministry enjoyed solidarity in 2013. “I cannot say the task was properly done, but we continue to be present and would do everything for Cameroonians to receive the necessary care in the country”.

He was positive that General hospitals under construction in the Gynaeco –Obstetric Hospital of Douala, the Emergency Centre at the Central Hospital of Sangmelima are almost completed.
Mama Fouda regretted that he could not inaugurate the Imaging Centre in the North in Garoua and Bamenda, which were not finished and the construction of the Haemodialysis centre of Bafoussam and Ngaoundere, did not start. Prospects in 2014 are to turn the tides in maternal and infant mortality, put in place programmes created by the Head of Government for blood transfusion; blood can now be collected in security.

There are plans to construct a General Hospital in Garoua in collaboration with the Korean Government with finances available, and a General Hospital in Bamenda in search of funding. In 2014, there is need to ensure sustainable treatment of diseases with a reflection on a Support Fund for universal treatment on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, become independent in vaccination for children below five years.

Though having a Health Support Fund is not a bad idea, the corruption and mismanagement of public funds attracts a number of questions concerning how such a fund would be managed.
Cameroon still has a long was in the provision of health to Cameroonians, from reception in the hospitals, fake drugs in the market, fake treatment centres, inadequate provision of health facilities and personnel.

First published in The Post print edition no 01493

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