Accessibility links

Breaking News

Cameroon’s HIV/AIDS Patients Shirk Hospitals for Fear of COVID-19

FILE - People, some wearing masks, walk by the entrance to Yaounde General Hospital, in Yaounde, Cameroon, March 6, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
FILE - People, some wearing masks, walk by the entrance to Yaounde General Hospital, in Yaounde, Cameroon, March 6, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cameroon's Ministry of Health says tens of thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS are refusing to enter hospitals for fear of catching the coronavirus. Health workers say if those patients do not get the antiretroviral drugs the need, they put themselves at risk. Ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, Cameroon’s medics are urging HIV-positive patients to take their medicine.

At Yaoundé’s Baptist Hospital Etugebe, about 30 people with AIDS listen to speakers and health workers talk about HIV.

19-year-old Nyako Cinthia Njiti, who for five years has been living with AIDS, said it has been nine months since they last held a meeting.

"We always have monthly meetings, we sit together, share ideas, encourage others, people share their success stories. And due to the fact that people cannot meet, it disturbs children from coming together and having the fun they always have. And also, when they come for drugs, we always have counseling sessions with them. They play with toys. Those things are not more happening," said Njiti.

More disturbingly, Cameroon’s health ministry reports that of the 300,000 HIV-positive people in the country who need antiretrovirals, about 60 percent refuse to visit hospitals because of COVID-19.

Sintieh Ngek is with the Cameroon Baptist Convention health services. He said failure to take anti-retroviral drugs can weaken the immune systems of people with AIDS.

“When the immune system is that weak, every disease that comes to the body is going to infect the body, so you have frequent diarrheas, weight loss, diseases like cryptococcal meningitis and tuberculosis. These are very common opportunistic infections," said Ngek.

Gilbert Tene of the Cameroon Medical Council said to fill the gap, medics are going to AIDS patients in their homes and giving them a one-month supply of anti-retrovirals.

"We need those patients at the hospitals to keep on counseling, to provide them with drugs and provide them with any other support. That is why we have come up with what is called differentiated service delivery which has made us to go out to the community to assist those who cannot come to the hospital," said Tene.

Health worker Awa Fany said some hospitals in Cameroon are running short on funds for AIDS patients because of the pandemic.

"Funding has become limited. Funders are now paying more attention to COVID-19 and so we are asking ourselves how can we ensure that we distribute resources in an even manner such that we still care for children who are HIV positive while taking care of those who are COVID-19 positive," said Fany.

Even before the pandemic, Cameroon health officials struggled to get AIDS patients to hospitals for treatment.

Cameroon’s Ministry of Health says in 2019, 75% of AIDS-infected children died in their first five years.

The government blames parents who fail to follow up on treatment for their children while many parents cannot afford transport fees to get them to city hospitals.