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Hospitals Overflow as Malaria Spikes in Northern Cameroon

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— The death toll from malaria in north Cameroon has risen to 2,500.  The minister of health says treated mosquito bed nets that are supposed to be distributed free are instead sold in hospitals or exported to neighboring countries.  Meanwhile, hospitals say they no longer have space for patients as the epidemic keeps growing.

Tanimou Maimouna cries in front of the Bon Secours clinic in Maroua as her 11-month old daughter dies from malarial complications.  Her family is just one among thousands who have lost loved ones since a malaria spike began in the far north in September.

Cameroon's Minister of Health Andre Mamma Fouda said the number of cases have spiraled.

He said 657,754 patients have been treated in local hospitals with more than 180,000 diagnosed with malaria.  He said 75 percent of those had simple malaria while the rest presented with serious or deadly complications.

The Health Ministry confirmed more than 2,600 people have died - many of them pregnant women and children.  But local newspapers reported a much higher death toll.

Minister Fouda said the government was responding rapidly to the growing demands being placed on local hospitals.

He said highly specialized equipment has been brought in to quickly diagnose suspected cases, and they have increased the supply of the latest anti-malaria drugs at highly subsidized rates. 

He said children under 5 years of age with uncomplicated cases of malaria were being treated for free.

The government also said it has intensified the free distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets.

But Suzan Birni, a nurse, said most facilities like the Pont Vert hospital in Maroua where she worked have not received the nets to distribute to pregnant women.

“For quite some time now there are no mosquito bed nets to distribute.  So when a woman delivers they just ask them [her] to go back without any bed net,” she said.

Newspaper reports accused some of the hospital staff of selling the bed nets in neighboring countries like Chad.

Nigerian-born Johnson Nnandi is a local market vendor who said that he bought and sold treated bed nets for about $10 to $15 each.

“At times we sell one for six thousand francs, at times seven thousand francs.  But when business is not going on well we sell for 5,000 francs," he said.

Back at the Pont Vert hospital in Maroua, the situation is getting desperate.

Mr. and Mrs. Abdoulaye Abbo have been receiving treatment outside in the courtyard as there is not space inside.  The couple and their baby are all suffering from malaria.

Despite the substandard conditions, they sid they appreciated the hospital staff for working hard to save lives.

He said he was the first to get malaria, then his wife, and now they were back at the hospital with their daughter.  He thought the malaria was the worst ever this year.

Malaria cases constitute the highest number of consultations in Cameroon’s hospitals, and the death rate from the disease stands at 28 percent.

Health officials in Cameroon blame the epidemic on the refusal of people to use treated mosquito bed nets, the fact that many people do not respect basic hygiene standards, the failure to clear outdoor standing water, and people who do not visit health facilities when they have early signs of malaria.

The World Health Organization warns that waiting six hours for treatment can mean death to a child sick with malaria.

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