South-West Cameroon: MSF ambulance services - Testimonies

29 Jul 21

Outbreaks of unpredictable and extreme violence have displaced many people and made it far harder for people to access medical facilities in Cameroon’s North-West and South-West Regions. Nightly curfews and regular lockdowns effectively bar those in need of emergency care, such as women in labour from accessing medical facilities. MSF is running an essential ambulance service, which runs 24/7, regardless of lockdowns and saves lives. Here, MSF patients in Cameroon describe how their lives have been impacted by the violence and the challenges they face in accessing care.

Obel Antoinette – mother of paediatric patient

My son had a temperature of 39.5; he was vomiting and feeling weak, so I called the Doctors Without Borders ambulance to come and take us to hospital because it was already late.

Due to the crisis we weren’t able to leave the house and go to the hospital alone. This Anglophone crisis is affecting all of us.

Obel Antoinette's son had a high temperature and was suffering from malaria, malnutrition and a rash. When his condition worsened it was already after curfew and she had little option but to call MSF's ambulance service.

This is a very dangerous period; at times there is a lot of gunfire, and at night you cannot go out because it’s not safe.

I couldn’t just get a motorbike taxi to rush my child to hospital, so I had to call the ambulance.

When we arrived at the hospital, my child was diagnosed with malaria, malnutrition and rashes. They treated him well, taking good care of him and being kind with him. He received treatment for all his ailments.

This is our fourth day in hospital and he’s responding to treatment very well; a few days ago he wasn’t that active, but today he’s very energetic and strong and can even play.

Obel Antoinette's son had a high termperature and was suffering from malaria, malnutrition and a rash. When his condition worsened it was already after curfew and she had little option but to call MSF's ambulance service.

This is the second time Doctors Without Borders has treated my child. The first time he had a sore throat and a high temperature.

His sore throat made it difficult for him to eat or drink, and his temperature stopped him from playing. So we called the ambulance.

They brought us here, treated us for free and we were discharged. The malnutrition might have been caused by his fever or other symptoms, it made it hard for him to eat; he would only drink water.

Ndip Kingsley Endeley

It was on the 29th of December, I was heading home on my motorbike. As I pulled into the main road I saw just one light coming down, so I thought it was another bike.

As I got closer, I realised it was a car, like a land cruiser with bars on the front. I had no means to escape so we collided face to face. I don’t know what happened after that.

I woke up and realized I was in hospital – people told me that I had passed out, that it was like I was dead. I just thank God that I’m alive.

After being involved in a serious traffic accident, bystanders called the MSF ambulance to pick up Ndip Kingsley Endeley. He was taken to Kumba district hospital and admitted for treatment.

After the crash, the people who saw the accident helped me; one brother called me an ambulance from Doctors Without Borders. It was my wife who told me that it was the ambulance of Doctors Without Borders that brought me here.

When I regained consciousness, the first thing I saw on me was the bandages, they had bandaged both of my legs, for that I thank the doctor who treated me, she is not here today, but wherever she is, may God take care of her.

Doctors Without Borders medical staff conduct their rounds in Mamfe District Hospital, South-West Cameroon.

I live at Up Station, working with the office of town planning; we decide how houses are built and make sure that the foundations and the structure are sound.

"The crisis has really impacted healthcare in my community, in my neighborhood at Up Station, we have a very big lake, but when people are injured beyond the lake, it’s very difficult for people to find healthcare"

Ndip Kingsley Endeley

We work with the council and housing and urban development department.

After being involved in a serious traffic accident, bystanders called the MSF ambulance to pick up Ndip Kingsley Endeley. He was taken to Kumba district hospital and admitted for treatment.

The crisis has really impacted healthcare in my community, in my neighborhood at Up Station, we have a very big lake, but when people are injured beyond the lake, it’s very difficult for people to find healthcare.

They either get into canoes or they trek. In emergencies it’s difficult for them, the road is inaccessible for vehicles and canoes are too slow.

Issa Patricia

I lived in Nakebokoko before settling in Kosaala three. We were living in the bush before this, we fled there because we were constantly hearing gunshots from every direction. As we didn’t know where they were coming from we decided to run to the bush.

When my daughter Achalle Lucie got sick I went with her to the Ngong Neighborhood. She had an internal abscess, they saw it in the echography and referred us here saying they could not handle it there.

Then Doctors Without Borders referred us here (Presbyterian General Hospital Kumba) for her operation.

Doctors Without Borders surgeon, Dr Jules, operates on a patient suffering from a hernia in Mamfe District Hospital, South-West Cameroon.

They took her immediately to the theatre. We have been here for two weeks, she has been improving but she needed to go back to the theatre as she was still feeling pain. Now she is feeling better.

The crisis has affected many people. A lot of people don’t live in their houses, but in the bush instead because they want to avoid danger.

But some are dying because there are no roads that lead to town, people get bitten by snakes and sometimes even bike taxis refuse to come to town for fear of being harmed.

Issa Patricia sits with her daughter Achalle Lucie in Kumba Presbyterian hospital after Achalle Lucie had an operation. After hearing gunfire from every direction, the two of them had been living in the bush to escape the violence.

If they do transport a sick person, it takes a long time, and in an emergency the delay might mean they don’t survive.

If someone is sick, they try to find the closest health centre. As they burnt the Kombone Health centre that was close to us, we go to any nurse that used to work there before and they try to help us.

Rosemary

My village is very far and cars don’t get there, but I was having issues with my pregnancy and I was bleeding so I trekked to the nearest town, which took me a full day.

When I got there I was tired and couldn’t walk any more so people called the ambulance that brought me here.

As I got into the ambulance, the nurse was comforting me and asking about my condition. I was asking him to please treat me for free because I had no money and he told me that all the services would be free.

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This crisis is having an impact on a lot of people where I live, they are sick but they don’t have a way of coming to town because sometimes there are road blocks run by armed men.

But some community health volunteers are assisting people that are sick in our village, they are the ones that told me about the ambulances.

When I got to the hospital, they put me on a drip and my energy started to come back, they gave me a blood transfusion and medication to take.

"This crisis has affected us with so many things, people came to our village and burnt down the houses of others – people who had done nothing; they fought with people and even killed some of our young villagers"

Rosemary

Where I come from, this crisis has affected many people, people are scared. Some of them have run away from the village, some have run to Nigeria leaving their husbands and children behind.

This crisis has affected us with so many things, people came to our village and burnt down the houses of others – people who had done nothing; they fought with people and even killed some of our young villagers. 

Elvis - Ambulance Nurse Mamfe

Sometimes it’s tough, but when you do this job it’s all about the joy you get from seeing somebody smile.

To see somebody who was in pain, somebody who didn’t think they would see the next day and to be the cause for their smile and relief, that’s what motivates me.

Every day I look at myself and say if I didn’t do this, my life wouldn’t be complete.

Our ambulances are well equipped; we have essential drugs, we have IV lines and fluids, rapid tests for malaria, treatment for severe malaria and oxygen concentrators.

Elvis is an ambulance nurse with Doctors Without Borders in South-West Cameroon. According to him, the best part of his role is seeing the smile on a patient's face when they recover.

Ensuring we have all these things means we can begin treating the patient before we get to hospital. The ambulance service even works on lockdown days, and on the days we call ghost town days.

Once we received a call that a woman had delivered her baby at home on her own. She was in need of assistance. When we arrived, there was a lot of blood.

I cut the umbilical cord, swaddled the baby and made sure the two of them were alright before taking them to hospital for further treatment. Usually when I meet such situations, I take in a deep breath and stay calm.

This place is my home so I know the area, and the people we see and work with are not strangers to me.

Mamfe District Hospital, South-West Cameroon, where MSF medical staff provide surgical, maternity, emergency and paediatric care for free and refer patients via ambulance.

When we get an emergency call the first thing to know is exactly what we are facing, to know if the person is suffering from a fever, or if there’s been an accident or something like that.

This allows you to start mentally preparing and thinking through the material you’ll need and the procedures you’ll follow.

It’s good to be prepared like this, but we also have to remember that if it’s an emergency situation, things change quickly and when we arrive, we need to be ready for whatever medical situation might face us.

When we arrive, first of all we look at the situation of the patient. If it’s somebody in a critical state we do some emergency aid first and work to stabilise the patient.

Doctors Without Borders medical staff conduct their rounds in Mamfe District Hospital, South-West Cameroon.

Throughout the journey it’s very important to keep talking to the patient and to keep them alert to prevent them going into shock or losing consciousness.

"Every day I look at myself and say if I didn’t do this, my life wouldn’t be complete"

Elvis , Ambulance Nurse Mamfe 

Sometimes patients are very distressed, they might hold your hand and ask you, “am I going to die?” and that’s real trust; you have to reassure them and let them see you’re taking care of them.

I think that this is one of the only fields where you will get such close contact with other human beings.

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