YAOUNDE, CAMEROON— Cameroon has started a crackdown on medical institutions, including Chinese traditional medical practitioners, who are practicing illegally in the country. The health ministry says thousands of hospitals operating without authorization are responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of patients.
Twenty-seven-year-old Mirabel Ndi watches helplessly as her two-month-old baby cries in pain. She says that for the entire night, she had been at the private clinic in Yaounde with no medical staff on duty.
“I came to the hospital and there is nobody to help," she said. "Nobody to help.”
Since the government of Cameroon started a crackdown on what it calls illegal hospitals, staff members have gone into hiding. The secretary-general of Cameroon's National Medical Council, Bijoko Atangana says the Council will continue to pursue order in the sector.
He says a person only needs to go and see for oneself the proliferation of hospitals across the country; many of them operating illegally. He says all doctors working in such places and who are not members of the National Medical Council are practicing illegally.
The government of Cameroon says it has already identified 600 illegal hospitals and health centers. Andre Mama Fouda is Cameroon's minister of health:
He says the government is targeting hospitals all over Cameroon, and wants to know the legality of their activities and close them down if they are not authorized to function.
There are fears that hospitals that are operating legally have infrastructure problems and may not be able to react effectively to emergencies.
At the Central Hospital in Yaounde, Dr. Etoundi Albert, one of the officials of the emergency unit, said that the few people on staff are overwhelmed.
He says the hospital is able to handle up to eight emergencies at a time. Non-emergency cases can be handled 20 at once. But he says it is very important that qualified staff is available to treat Cameroonians, and when there is an emergency, the hospital should have the means to react quickly.
Dr. Nick Ngwanyam, who runs the Saint Louis Higher Institute of Health that trains medical staff, says the steps being taken by the government to stop hospitals from operating illegally will save many lives.
“When it comes to medicine, there is no room for mistakes and so the action is welcome. You go to the hospital, there is the doctor who is genuine, then there is a nurse who is called doctor, the laboratory technician doctor, then the nurse aid doctor, and so doctor which use to mean something has become a generic name for somebody in white coat.”
The government also is targeting illegal Chinese medical practitioners. Some Cameroonians, like Daniel Kum, suggest that the government should organize the practice of Chinese medicine in Cameroon instead of stopping it.
“After moving from one hospital to the other, I did not have drugs that could help me. But when I took the Chinese medication, especially what they call the One Bao, and it helped me and I was happy.”
The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide 200,000 deaths per year could be prevented if people did not use counterfeit drugs mostly supplied in illegally run hospitals. According to the London-based International Policy Network, counterfeit tuberculosis and malaria drugs are are estimated to kill 700,000 people globally each year