Why are we there?
- Endemic/epidemic disease
This is an excerpt from MSF's 2014 International Activity Report
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) opened an emergency program in east Cameroon in response to an influx of refugees from Central African Republic (CAR).
Intercommunal conflict in CAR caused hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge in Cameroon and other countries in 2014. Some 9,000 arrived in Cameroon during a 10-day period in February alone, and by the end of the year, an estimated135,000 were in the country.
In January, MSF began to support the Ministry of Public Health by providing medical, nutritional, and psychological support to refugees at sites in Garoua-Boulaï, Gado-Badzéré, Gbiti, and Batouri. The majority of patients were suffering from malnutrition, malaria, and respiratory infections. Medical care, primarily maternity services, and health care for children up to the age of 15, was also offered to host communities and MSF helped with vaccination campaigns.
In Garoua-Boulaï, a small border city where many refugees crossed into Cameroon, MSF teams conducted medical consultations, distributed relief items, and worked on sanitation and water supply at the Pont Bascule transit site. The water and sanitation activities were handed over to the NGO Solidarité Internationale in October. Another team continued to work at the district hospital and provided about 1,000 outpatient consultations per week last year. At the Protestant Hospital, MSF supported a therapeutic feeding center and in 2014 increased the bed capacity to 100 to accommodate more children with severe malnutrition.
From February to October, MSF ran a health center at Gado-Badzéré camp, about 15 miles from Garoua-Boulaï. There was an outpatient feeding center and a space designated for individual and group psychosocial counseling sessions. MSF also carried out water and sanitation activities in the camp, undertook epidemiological surveillance, and implemented an early response to a cholera outbreak.
In March, MSF began working in Gbiti, another border town where more than 20,000 refugees have been registered. MSF conducted more than 1,000 medical consultations per week, supplied water, and built latrines and showers at a makeshift camp. Two mobile teams provided medical care to small pockets of refugees in the area. Patients requiring more intensive care were referred by MSF to hospitals in Batouri or Bertoua. MSF also supported Batouri District Hospital in the management of patients with severe, complicated malnutrition, and increased capacity to 150 beds.
Buruli Ulcer Project Ends After 12 Years
In June, MSF handed over the Buruli ulcer pavilion in Akonolinga to the Ministry of Health. This project had opened in response to the high number of people in the area affected by Buruli, a chronic and destructive infection that affects people’s skin and tissue. Laboratory diagnosis, antibiotics, wound dressing, surgery, and physiotherapy were provided. Some 1,400 patients have been treated since the project began in 2002, and around 43,000 people have benefited from awareness activities. The University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland, will continue training Cameroonian medical students in chronic wound treatment and care, including for Buruli ulcer.
At the end of 2014, MSF had 277 staff in Cameroon. MSF has been working in the country since 1984.
Natasha, 24 years old, was admitted to the Buruli program 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."