YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Medical aid group Doctors Without Borders says tens of thousands of people in Cameroon’s western regions have been deprived of lifesaving healthcare since December, when authorities stopped their services. Cameroon accused the aid group of being too close to anglophone separatists, which the group denies.
Doctors Without Borders says over 1.4 million people in Cameroon’s restive western regions need humanitarian support, with access to healthcare extremely limited.
The coordinator for the group’s operations in Central Africa, Emmanuel Lampaert, said that’s due to insecurity, lockdowns, and the targeting of health facilities.
He said mortality among vulnerable groups, such as women and children, has increased, and the government’s suspension of their support since December has made the situation even worse.
“Humanitarian and health needs have surges due to the armed violence and notably for the population and several hundreds of thousands of them who have to flee their houses, and who have barriers to access health care. Concretely speaking, this means suffering from malaria or diarrhea for children in the bush, women in labor who are unable to reach health facilities, people suffering from acute respiratory infections, women victims of sexual violence and so on,” said Lampaert.
Cameroon’s government in 2020 accused Doctors Without Borders of being too close to separatists who are fighting to create an independent English-speaking state in the majority French speaking country.
Lampaert denied the accusation and said their only goal is to save lives.
“Responding to urgent health needs is our mere and only concern. Viruses, bullets, and infections do not care which side of the crisis one is on and neither do the Doctors Without Borders. That is our DNA and that is the DNA of principled humanitarian medical action,” he said.
When contacted by a reporter, Cameroon officials would not say when the aid group, known by its French initials MSF, might be allowed to resume work in the western regions.
Cameroon’s health ministry last week reported about 30 percent of hospitals in the regions are no longer functioning due to separatist attacks.
The health ministry said several hundred health care workers have fled the separatist conflict areas in the past month alone.
Philip Ambe is a government health worker who fled flighting in the northwest town of Bafut last Sunday.
Speaking from the town of Dschang, he said MSF’s work was professional and authorities should allow them to resume saving lives.
“The government does not need to stay mute on this issue [over asking MSF to resume work] again. The situation is very pathetic. People can no longer live in the comfort of their bedrooms. People were kidnapped. Some are in the bush. It is moving from bad to worse. The only way out is dialogue so that things should come back to normal.”
MSF was one of the few groups offering free emergency care to Cameroon’s northwest and southwest populations since 2018.
MSF says community health workers it supported last year conducted over to 150,000 consultations for communities in both regions.
And a free ambulance service it initiated transported over a thousand women in labor to hospitals.
Violence erupted in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions in 2017 when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority.
The military reacted with a crackdown and separatist groups took up arms, claiming that they were protecting civilians.
The U.N. says 3,000 people have since been killed and more than 750,000 displaced both internally and to neighboring Nigeria.