BAMENDA - Medical staff are fleeing hospitals in Cameroon's troubled English-speaking regions after attacks this month left several nurses dead and many others wounded. Medics say they are stuck between a military that accuses them of aiding armed separatists and rebel fighters who say hospitals betray them to the army.
Elvis Ndansi, of the Cameroon trade union of nurses, says the killings and abuse provoked outrage in the medical corps.
"The military comes, chase them out of the hospital, brutalize them, beat them. As medical personnel, we all stand to condemn these acts and say they are very wrong. Medical personnel are supposed to be protected in times of war. They are there to take care of all casualties, be they from the military, be they from the Ambazonians or secessionists. Their role is to save lives," Ndansi said.
Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai of the English-speaking southwest region denies the military is responsible for the attacks, saying the separatists seeking an English-speaking state in Cameroon are the ones to blame. He says he has instructed the military to protect hospitals from armed gangs.
Despite the danger of traveling in the region, hundreds of medics showed up Wednesday for a funeral to honor Nancy Azah and her husband Njong Padisco. The couple, both nurses, were shot dead last week, reportedly by Cameroonian troops.
Nurse Arrey Rose says the association of nurses called on the medical community to show solidarity by attending the funeral service.
"We have mobilized to let the world know that doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and pharmacists are tortured and killed just for saving lives," Rose said. "God spared mine when I was pulled out of hospital and beaten just because I was accused of hiding terrorists. Many are dead, many are wounded."
The violence has led patients and medical staff to desert hospitals in both the northwest and southwest.
Eighteen-year-old Mundi Ernestine says that when she took her younger brother to Bamenda regional hospital, there was no one to treat him.
"God has been sustaining him," Ernestine said. "We were not attended to in the hospital for a week because the staff was absent. We had to carry him on our back through the bush to Bamenda, which is a bit calm. He is recovering, but my fear is that many are dying in the bushes just because there is no nurse to help."
The Cameroon Medical Council says, due to the ongoing conflict, the exact number of medical staff who have fled the two volatile regions is unknown.
Governor Bilai is calling on them to return. He says all political leaders and civil society groups should educate runaway staff to go back to their work, especially now that the military is protecting medical facilities.
More than 300 civilians and security forces have been killed in Cameroon's English-speaking regions since 2016, when separatists launched their drive for an independent state they call Ambazonia.
The United Nations says at least 200,000 people have been internally displaced in the conflict and tens of thousands have fled to neighboring Nigeria.