YAOUNDE - Hundreds of people protested in Douala, Cameroon, Sunday, a day after the death of a pregnant woman who was reportedly left untreated by hospital staff because she was not able able to pay consultation fees.
Cameroon officials denied the charge.
"This problem is terrible. It is horrible and Cameroon is very very sad. [But] I would say that it is not a problem of negligence in the district hospital or in the Laquintinie hospital in Douala," Cameroon's Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda said.
Fouda claimed the pregnant woman and her unborn fetuses were already dead before arriving at the hospital.
Monique Kumate, 31, and her twin fetuses were said to have died Saturday at Laquintinie when no medical staff attended to them. Her sister allegedly tried to perform a cesarean-section-type procedure to remove the fetuses in an effort to save them.
However, the tragedy had led to criticisms and protests from political parties, human rights groups and angry youths, as well as sparked debate about the quality of services delivered in Cameroonian hospitals.
Professor Tetanye Ekoe, vice president of Cameroon's medical council, said there have been calls for the government to close 1,000 hospitals and training centers allegedly operating illegally and without the necessary staff and equipment, which is putting the lives of millions of people in danger.
Ekoe said the health ministry must enforce laws to punish medical staff who seek payment before treating patients.
Dr. Nick Ngwanyam, who trains doctors and nurses, said the country also has too few doctors.
Ngwanyam cited doctor pay as an issue. He said many trained doctors seek higher pay in European countries; newly trained doctors receive about $250 a month.
"We need 8,000 medical doctors as of now to meet our needs. Many of our children are going to countries like Benin, Mali and all over the whole place and studying under very poor conditions in some of those countries,” he said. “And when they do come back with certificates saying they are medical doctors, it becomes too difficult to manage them because you don't know what they have got, you don't know what they are worth."
The World Health Organization estimated Cameroon has only about 25 percent of the doctors it needs, with only one doctor for every 40,000 citizens in a country of 22 million people.