By Andrew Nsoseka
Some government officials in Cameroon who probably shriek in anger when vulnerable people or those in dire need of health services receive such services in Cameroon must now be nodding in glee that Doctors Without Borders, which has been freely offering such services in the two crisis-hit Anglophone regions, has finally shut down its activities because they, government officials, have failed to grasp the concept of “Neutrality” in service provision in conflict zones.
Government’s seeming persistent effort to deny humanitarian access to DWB services and health services to those who cannot afford such services or communities where health service has collapsed has been consistent.
On August 2, 2021, Doctors Without Borders announced that “it had been forced to withdraw teams from the Northwest Region, after the authorities suspended its activities in December 2020, accusing it of supporting local armed groups.” This left thousands of those who depended on DWB services stranded.
This forced the Humanitarian Healthcare provided to limit its activities in Anglophone regions to only the Southwest region. The final blow came on March 29, when, in a statement made public, DWB said it could no longer offer services too in the Southwest region because its ability to do so has been severely hampered by a difficult relationship with the government. The communiqué noted that the government has been falsely accusing it of “complicity to secessionists”.
“Despite our continued efforts and our unwavering commitment to improve access to health services to vulnerable communities, the current situation makes it impossible for Doctors Without Borders to continue providing this support, while maintaining standards the organisation is committed to ensure for its patients,” a statement to community leaders from DWB partly read.
In its letter to community leaders, DWB further stated that “starting from the 29th of March 2022, Doctors Without Borders will suspend all its activities in all facilities and communities within the South West region of Cameroon. We will keep on supporting the patients currently admitted under our care for as long as possible as defined in the Letter of Agreement (LoA) signed by MSF and the facilities, but we will no longer be providing ambulance services, support to medical care in the communities and/or support to any of the private or Ministry of Health medical structures as of today.”
Like the case of the Northwest region of the country, thousands who depend on DWB’s services will again be stranded and the death toll from preventable causes will again increase. The armed conflict in the region has cut off most of the population from health services, as many facilities have shutdown due to insecurity and harassment from belligerents in the conflict. DWB waded in in such communities and as a neutral service provider, helped to prevent thousands of those in need from dying due to lack of access to health.
By working with community leaders, and staying neutral in the conflict, DWB increasingly gained the confidence of most persons. Though coming in on the bases of the armed conflict and the humanitarian needs, the outfit had, some time ago in statistics published, noted that just about five prevent of their patients come with gun related issues. This however has not stopped government officials from wanting to clamp down on the organisation accusing it of aiding separatist fighters.
The biggest losers in the whole thing will be a community whom government had some 22 years ago, promised “health for all” to, but who lack, in an acute manner, basic health services. Though the everyday Cameroonian and especially those in Anglophone regions lack basic health, the officials who champion such unpopular moves are the first to fly Western countries and other countries where others like them prioritise the bettering of the health sector.
Hundreds of millions are spent yearly by Cameroonian officials who often, when sick, are flown abroad where hospitals there are not like they ones they have condemned the everyday Cameroonian to. While some get treated abroad, some have returned in coffins to be interred in the communities they have condemned through their choices and actions.