Health centers in Cameroon are now adopting the telemedicine option to continue to give critical care to patients who are increasingly staying away from such facilities for fear of contracting the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Cameroon’s Public Health Minister Dr. Manaouda Malachie raised an alarm early this month on the growing phenomenon of people avoiding hospitals and other health care centers for reported reasons for poor patient treatment and stigmatization related to COVID-19.

He said hospitals had reported a drastic drop in the number of patients who used to visit them especially in towns and cities with higher numbers of positive COVID-19 cases. Cameroon, which reported its first coronavirus case on March 6, now has close to 12, 500 known cases of infection, according to figures from the Public Health Ministry.

Dr. Elvis Ndansi Nukam, Chief Executive Officer of Unite for Health Foundation, an organization that operates two clinics in the capital, Yaounde, and one other in the crisis-hit Northwestern city of Bamenda, says they have opted for telemedicine because patient turnout at all of its clinics has drastically dropped, as opposed to what obtained before the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

Publicity banner in the North West city of Bamenda announcing patient consultation by telemedicine in Cameroon.

A drop in routine physical medical checks for patients in Cameroon

“At Unite for Health, we have seen a drastic decline in patient turn over in all our three micro-clinics. Pregnant women who were enrolled for prenatal care are not regular for their routine medical checks,” Dr. Ndansi said in a statement.

“That is why we have decided to launch a telemedicine program at Unite for Health Foundation to permit those in the communities that we serve to be able to use their phones and reach out to us either through direct audio or video calls to consult with our doctors and get the best of advice on what to do about their health. We intend to also help screen and educate patients on COVID-19. Fortunately, most households in Cameroon have a mobile phone these days,” he added.

Dr. Ndansi said the telemedicine program is the more prompted by the fact that “we do not want to let the COVID-19 emergency separate pregnant women, mothers and children from our urgent, life-saving medical care or disease prevention programs”. “Both are critical to the public health of thousands of Cameroonians,” he noted.

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Just like the clinics run by Unite for Health Foundation, there are other health facilities especially in Yaounde that are gradually embracing tech-related methods to attend to a larger number of patients given the social difficulties imposed by the rampaging coronavirus disease.

Telemedicine, a novelty in Cameroon

Telemedicine is not quite a fully established practice in Cameroon where the government is only now trying to ensure universal health coverage for its citizens. The Central African nation does not spend up to 15% of its national budget on health care as recommended by the Abuja Declaration of 2001 which the country has adhered to. Effective health care delivery is thus still largely limited to semi-urban and urban areas, and the outbreak of COVID-19 has only come to expose deficiencies in the country’s already fragile health system.

Aware of the exigencies brought about by COVID-19, the country’s Prime Minister Dr. Joseph Dion Ngute said at a recent cabinet meeting that the government was looking to accelerate the full integration of digital technology in its health care delivery system, especially in the aspect of pharmaceuticals.

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