In Garoua, Cameroon,  one of two nurses at the regional hospital explaining incidence of malnutrition (VOA/D.Ntaryike)
In Garoua, Cameroon, one of two nurses at the regional hospital explaining incidence of malnutrition (VOA/D.Ntaryike)

YAOUNDE - Cameroon's medical council is calling on the government to close 1,000 hospitals they say are operating illegally. The council says these hospitals, lacking necessary manpower and equipment, are putting the lives of millions of people in danger. But some of the hospitals are run by trained medical staff part-time, to augment their low salaries.

Butcher Yannick Ahanda, 52, is one of 20 patients waiting to be attended to at Mount Zion, one of 200 clinics Cameroon's national medical council says is operating illegally in the capital, Yaounde.

He said he prefers private clinics because appointments are respected and patients do not need to wait in very long lines as they do at government hospitals. Some patients at government hospitals end up waiting just to be asked to come again because the doctor is either absent from work or is attending a conference. Health care delivery is better in private hospitals and clinics.

As an ambulance rushes a 66-year-old-patient to the emergency unit of the Yaounde central hospital, the lady's daughter, Sylvie Manga, said they called for specialized medical attention after several failed attempts to restore her mother's health in a private clinic in Yaounde.

"You will not imagine that they operate and they forget pieces of cloth, they forget it in the stomach. We carry the patient back home, after sometime we discover that the wound is not getting healed. When we take her back to the hospital, she is operated again and the pieces are removed," said Manga.

Professor Tetanye Ekoe, vice president of Cameroon's medical council, said the council cannot continue to be silent when many people are suffering at the hands of charlatans.

He said there are more than 1,000 illegal and clandestine hospitals and training schools for hospitals all over Cameroon, and that in such hospitals unqualified doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, midwives and others are treating Cameroonians of various health complications without any control. He said Cameroon can not talk of the security of citizens when there is such disorder exposing people to early deaths.

More than 500 medical doctors and 5,000 nurses are trained in Cameroon every year, but since 1996, when the country plunged into economic crisis, salaries of medical doctors have been slashed by 60 percent, to barely $300 per month.

Dr. Viban Eugene, who owns a private clinic, said some doctors open clinics to make up for poor pay and to recruit jobless but trained medical staff to work their hospitals without equipment.

FILE - A family of refugees that fled their homes
FILE - A family of refugees that fled their homes sit inside a refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon. Cameroon has an estimated one doctor per 40,000 people.

"Most medical doctors are also owning their private clinics as well. And so when they leave the hospital they prefer to direct their patients to private clinics. They don't give attention to patients in the government hospital to attract them to their private hospital. You even hear patients say that it is better to go consult that doctor at his private clinic. There he is going to take more care, he is going to take more time to give adequate care. But in the hospital there are so many people, so many patients, he is not going to get more time. So doctors themselves who are in the government hospital take advantage of this and decide to create their own private clinics, some even in their homes," said Eugene.

The medical council said all doctors working in such hospitals and clinics who are not members of the national medical council are practicing illegally.

Cameroon has a limited number of practicing medical doctors, with the World Health Organization estimating the doctor-patient ratio as closer to one doctor per 40,000 inhabitants instead of the recommended one doctor per 10,000 inhabitants. The country has about 22 million people.