International humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation, Doctors Without Borders, sometimes rendered in French as Médecins Sans Frontières, is providing providing much-needed health assistance to vulnerable populations trapped in the exclaves of Cameroon’s restive South West regions.
Given the difficulty in accessing the enclaved parts of the South West Region, coupled with raging gun battles between non-state armed groups and security forces, Doctors Without Borders has trained community health workers to stand in the gap.
Internally displaced persons, especially women and children see Doctors Without Borders’ intervention and a lifesaving venture.
One of such community volunteer trained by Doctors Without Borders is Etienne Esua who consults patients, dresses their wounds and carries out rapid malaria tests. Malaria remains a killer disease in Cameroon.
“When a test shows that a person has malaria but the symptoms are not severe, I treat the patients with drugs,” he says as he provides primary healthcare to some of the region´s most vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities.
State forces have been fighting armed separatists since 2017, leading to thousands of deaths and no fewer than a million persons displaced. Access to medical care has been difficult and Doctors Without Borders’ community volunteers have been very vital.
“Community health volunteers are the bridge between the health facilities that we support and the vulnerable communities that don’t have access to health centres, either because they are displaced, because health structures are closed or because they can’t afford to pay for medical services,” says MSF field coordinator Yilma Werkagegnehu.
In all, there are 106 community volunteers in several health districts near the towns of Mamfe and Kumba in the South-West region. Similar activities were conducted in the North-West until December 2020, but have been put on hold following a decision from the authorities to suspend MSF activities in the region until further notice.
The community health volunteers trained by Doctors Without Borders detect cases of non-acute malaria, respiratory tract infections, malnutrition and diarrhoea.
“They also learn how to carry out health promotion activities to prevent people from getting sick and how to look out for signs of sexual abuse and psychological distress. While they might not be medical professionals, these volunteers are still trained to adhere to medical ethics, and to treat those in need, regardless of background,” MSF officials say.
In 2020, community volunteers provided more than 150,000 free medical consultations in the South-West and North-West region.
The community health volunteers are paid incentives for their work and receive backpacks filled with medicines. They meet regularly with MSF supervisors to discuss their work, get advice and share medical data. Their backpacks are refilled before they return to visit remote communities, often walking for several hours a day.
If a treatment is beyond their capacity, community volunteers can refer patients to MSF-supported health facilities where they receive free treatment if they meet certain criteria, such as children with severe malaria, women with complicated pregnancies, survivors of sexual violence or patients with intentional injuries.
One of the referred patients is a seven-year-old girl named Dorcas. She is sitting on a bench next to her mother outside the MSF-supported Presbyterian General Hospital in Kumba, South-West region. Her left leg is in a cast.
“The girl was injured in a traffic accident and was referred to the hospital by one of our community volunteers,” says MSF doctor Guisilla Dedino.
“She was assessed in the emergency room and was diagnosed as having an open fracture of the left leg. A surgeon from Doctors Without Borders operated on her. She is making progress, with the fracture showing good signs of healing.”
Traveling from remote villages to health facilities may be a significant challenge for several folks, because of insecurity, unhealthy road conditions, and lack of transport. MSF offers a free, 24-hour auto service that operates seven days per week, collects eligible patients at selected pick-up points, and takes them to MSF-supported health centers and hospitals. wherever we have a tendency to cannot go, MSF provides cash for conveyance in order that patients will reach health structures or pick-up-points. Managing a localized model of care Associate in Nursingd auto service isn’t straightforward in insecure surroundings like South-West and North-West Cameroon.
“Our community volunteers are sometimes harassed by armed men,” says MSF emergency coordinator for the South-West region, Paulo Milanesio. “We are in constant dialogue with different stakeholders to guarantee their safety. We need everyone to understand that community volunteers and ambulances provide a much-needed lifeline for vulnerable communities who would otherwise be deprived of medical care.”