YAOUNDE — Some 100,000 children, including Nigerian refugees fleeing attacks from the extremist sect Boko Haram, are suffering from acute malnutrition in northern Cameroon. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Health officials and United Nations agencies have been visiting the children and are promising assistance.
Badyne Mansto cries as her five-year-old child is buried near her house in Maroua, northern Cameroon. She told VOA the child lost weight and died at a private hospital two hours after she was admitted. She blamed the staff for not attending to her immediately when she arrived.
Hospital staff say they are overwhelmed. Mamha Catherine is one of them.
"As you can see, there are so many patients than we can attend to. We lack infrastructure, we lack staff, so what is certain is that some of the children whose lives may have been saved will end up dying," she said.
Aiida Maimonatou, who is at the hospital with her baby, is getting impatient. She said when her first child was not well, she took him to a traditional healer and he died. Now she has brought her second child to the hospital because the government is asking people not to go for traditional treatment. But, she says, "since I came here, nobody has attended to me."
Among the malnourished children are Nigerian refugees fleeing from the Islamist militant sect Boko Haram. At their camp in Menowo in Mayo Tsanaga Division where 7,000 refugees live, more than 300 children are suffering.
Comfort Manda, who said she fled Borno State, said she has lost a child to malnutrition.
"My brother, it is very difficult. I don't know what to tell you, but the situation that I met here is so deplorable that I don't know what to do now," said Manda. "I came in from Nigeria and my two children are sick, I have taken them to the hospital and find it difficult to provide their medicine. One of them already died and I am still struggling with one of them. I do not know what will happen at the end. Added to this, there is no food, there is no water and when children are sick they drink a lot of water. We are not able to have even water to give our children. It is very difficult."
Dr. Ndansi Elvis said the crisis is aggravated because refugees have to compete with the local population for food and water.
"These people come and there is competition for food. And when there is competition for food, there is also limited supply and the prices go up. And there is the problem of early marriages. You will not expect that a 17-year-old who has a child actually understands the nutritional needs of a child as much as a mature woman," said Elvis.
"It's astonishing that this is a public health problem but little attention is given to it. I go through the budget of the Ministry of Public Health for this year and I don't think that even up to 500 million CFA franc [$1 million] has been allocated for any program as far as malnutrition is concerned," Elvis continued.
Jean Mark Eding of Doctors Without Borders said a number of factors are contributing to the increasing number of malnourished children this year.
"The first thing is the absence or insufficient food for the children," he said. "There are also environmental factors, like droughts, floods, dykes that give way, insects that destroy crops and reduce food production."
UNICEF says large sectors of Cameroon's population lack access to basic health services, safe water, sanitation facilities and basic education. The agency is appealing for funds to prevent and combat malnutrition. Its officials and other United Nations agencies have been visiting the malnourished children and promising to help as soon as they get the funds.