Why are we there?

  • Endemic/epidemic disease

Our work

This is an excerpt from MSF-USA's 2012 Annual Report:

When a measles epidemic hit, MSF set up a treatment unit in a hospital in North region’s capital, Garoua, that mainly tended to patients under five years of age suffering from malnutrition and respiratory complications. MSF also donated treatment kits for some 1,835 patients and trained medical workers in 102 health facilities in 22 northern districts.

MSF set up another emergency response in the north, when flooding displaced thousands of families in the Extreme North region.

An MSF team in Akonolinga district’s main hospital tested for and treated Buruli ulcer, a very painful neglected disease that can led to irreversible deformities, providing surgery and physiotherapy as well. The staff also provides care to some 100 patients co-infected with Buruli and HIV.

Additionally, MSF trained hospital staff and provided medicines and other supplies for the treatment of 5,000 HIV patients in Douala’s Nylon district hospital and Soboum health center.

Wound dressing at MSF’s Buruli centre in Akonolinga.© Marcell Nimfuehr /MSF

At the end of 2012, MSF had 96 staff in Cameroon. MSF has been working in the country since 2000.

Patient story

Natasha, 24 years old, was admitted to the Buruli programme in 2007, with an ulcer on her left ankle. Five years later, she talks about her experience.

"In 2000, while I was back home in Akonolinga, I noticed I had a little spot on my left ankle. I ignored it, thinking it was a mosquito bite.

Several days later, a wound formed. My parents put a dressing on it and it healed. At least, I thought so.

But months later the same wound reappeared. We treated it at home again, like the first time, but it didn’t heal. In fact it got bigger, but strangely it didn’t hurt.

We went to the hospital, where a nurse dressed the wound and prescribed antibiotics. After two weeks, a yellow layer formed above the wound. That was when the nurse mentioned ‘Atom’ [the local name for Buruli ulcer]. He told us to go to a traditional healer he knew.

MSF hadn’t arrived yet, and we all strongly believed that Buruli ulcer could not be treated with medicines. For us, it was a mystical disease. My family and I were convinced that people who were jealous of my success in sport had sent me the disease.

So we visited the traditional healer, and I stayed there for four long months. My wound did not heal. I did not know that in the meantime MSF had come to Akonolinga to treat Atom. But one of the Buruli Pavilion nurses, who knew my father, saw that I had the disease and persuaded us to come to the hospital.

When I arrived and saw the other patients, with much larger, much more painful sores than mine, even children with the disease, I thought that maybe I was in with a chance.

It began with dressings and injections. But it quickly became a question of surgery. They were talking about debridement, grafts, and I didn’t understand anything.

The first operation went smoothly, but when I went to have the dressing changed, I nearly fainted. The sore was even bigger. I went into surgery with a small wound, and had come out with a bigger one.

I was certain it wouldn’t heal, and that they would amputate my foot. I was convinced I would never walk again despite everything the nurses said. I didn’t believe them any more.

But hope returned. Yes, some ugly scars were forming, but nothing had been amputated, I could hope to use my foot as before, and my case was not the worst.

I continued my treatment and after a bit more than a year I was discharged. I was cured! We had known it was impossible in the hospital, but it had worked for me.

Sure, I’ve missed several years at school; I think I’ve done one class three or four times! But I have been cured.

Gradually I was able to walk again and one year after leaving hospital I was even able to run. Not as fast as before, admittedly, but I could run, and that was a victory for me.

Today I am preparing for my final exams in communication, and for my wedding!

I don’t go back to Akonolinga as often as I used to, but when I do, I don’t forget to go and say hello to the MSF team."

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