YAOUNDE — A malaria upsurge in the town of Maroua, in the far north of Cameroon, has led to the death of hundreds of people. More than 10,000 people have been treated for the disease in the last month, straining the capacity of area hospitals and clinics.
Cameroon state radio said the number of people suffering from malaria in the north has made an unprecedented surge in the past three weeks.
The news broadcast said that hospitals in the far north of Cameroon are having problems handling the great number of malaria cases. "More than 10,000 cases have been reported in the Town of Maroua alone. Women and pregnant women are the highest hit,” it said.
According to statistics from the Maroua Urban health district, the ten hospitals in the area have treated more than 10,000 malaria patients in the past 21 days. Data on how many have been treated at private and mission hospitals is not available.
Palai Monique, a pediatric nurse at the Maroua Regional Hospital, told VOA that the situation has been alarming.
"All our halls have been occupied by people suffering from malaria, especially children between the ages of zero to 15 years," she said. "There have been moments we did not have space even for serious cases, and we recorded situations in which children just died as early as they came here."
Local newspapers have reported that at least a thousand people have died, while state radio puts the figure at about 600.
Dr. Etienne Fonjo, the secretary of Cameroon's anti-malaria program, acknowledged that child mortality has increased as a result of the upsurge.
"Malaria remains a public health concern here," he said. "Today morbidity has risen to 27 percent.
The doctor added that they have been struggling to assist the patients with the limited means they have.
"We can cite, for example, the free treatment given to children of less than five years, free treatment administered to pregnant women, and recently the free distribution of treated mosquito bed nets to 80 percent of households," said Dr. Fonjo.
Health officials in Cameroon blame the upsurge on the refusal of people to use treated mosquito bed nets, the fact that many people do not respect basic hygiene standards, 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. The first weeks after the dry season in Maroua are also periods when cases of malaria increase.