YAOUNDE - Cameroon says hundreds of hospital patients have fled health facilities after a jump in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Cameroon has about 7,400 confirmed cases and more than 205 deaths from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Patients say they are afraid of catching the coronavirus at hospitals, but health officials warn that not getting needed treatments for other health issues can put them at higher risk.
The highest number of patients who have fled hospitals are in the western towns of Bamenda and Bafoussam; the capital, Yaounde; and the economic capital of Douala, where confirmed cases of COVID-19 are increasing daily, said Health Minister Manaouda Malachie.
Each time a special ward for COVID-19 patients is created in a hospital, Manaouda said, Cameroonians worry that if they go to that hospital, they will contract the illness. He stressed that hospital wards dedicated to COVID-19 patients are separated from wards caring for other patients. However, he added, President Paul Biya has instructed the government to build special care centers for COVID-19 cases.
About 600 patients have fled from health facilities, while thousands of others are avoiding hospitals for fear of becoming infected, according to Manaouda.
Thirty-one-year-old banker Wilfred Awemo said he decided to seek African traditional treatment for his malaria because he no longer trusts hospitals in Cameroon.
"When you go with a little illness like this, most especially when you have a health complication and then you are going for checkup, they will just take your temperature and if it goes above 37, they just say that you are a suspect and they try to quarantine you," he said.
Authorities are putting all suspected coronavirus cases under quarantine. If a person tests negative, he or she is still kept under observation for 14 days.
Dr. Getrude Ashu, who is working with the public health ministry, said the government has sent out representatives to encourage people to visit hospitals and to stop going to traditional healers.
"We are trying to sensitize the population that it is not in all hospitals and that the probability of contracting COVID in the hospital is just the same as getting it in the marketplace or in the church or in the community," Ashu said. "So, we just require them to protect themselves when they go to the hospitals and respect all the preventive measures. We will not have any problems."
Since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Cameroon three months ago, government and health workers have been asking civilians to consider the situation as a serious health threat and refer suspected cases to hospitals.
The government says confirmed cases continue to rise because many people either do not believe the coronavirus exists, or refuse going to hospitals for treatment until their symptoms worsen.