By Hortensia Ntaine Ngam
Water is considered the source of life across the world but in Cameroon, it is gradually becoming the source of death. A devastating cholera epidemic – a waterborne disease – has already claimed 105 lives in the country, with 4,627 others infected, and the numbers keep increasing every passing day.
“We cannot buy mineral water all the time,” laments a resident of Buea, capital of Cameroon’s South West Region. Her name is withheld for her own safety.
“Imagine someone is defecating upstream and you are carrying the same water downstream. Honestly, we have no choice,” she says.
“We don’t have potable water in Buea. We can go for months without (potable) water from the utility company. That’s why most of us drink from wells and at times we carry from the streams to cook or do laundry. Honestly it is not easy, it seems the government has forgotten about us.”
Six Regions in Cameroon have reported at least a cholera case since an outbreak was reported in October, 2021. The South West Region is the hardest-hit, accounting for 48 of the total deaths, with more than 2,000 cases. Most of the cases are women and children below 12.
“Some patients in other wards had to be forcefully discharged so as to make way for cholera patients,” according to Dr Filbert Eko Eko, Regional Delegate of Public Health for the South West.
“The Buea district hospital alone has received more than three hundred patients in less than four days,” he says.
“The wards were full to the extent that sidewalks and pathways were used as makeshift wards. Same thing in Limbe and Tiko: the situation is disturbing.”
The public health official attributes the surging number of cholera cases in the region to “poor hygienic rules, compounded by frequent water cuts which compel the population to consume water from doubtful sources.”
Urgent Action Needed
Public Health Minister, Malachie Manaouda and his counterpart of Water and Energy, Gaston Eloundou Essomba, paid a visit to the South West Region Tuesday, March 29, 2022, to assess the gravity of the situation.
Days prior, the minister acknowledged that the war against COVID-19 has hijacked the fight against other dangerous diseases in the country lately, including cholera.
“We have spent hugely on trying to contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr Manaouda had lamented during celebrations marking World Tuberculosis Day last March 24.
“Now, other diseases like tuberculosis are receiving less attention,” he said.
“It is not that we are oblivious about them, the problem is that we have been spending a lot on COVID-19.”
Before leaving the region, the Minister donated FCFA 20 million to the solidarity fund set up to boost the cholera fight in the region.
Other preventive measures to check the spread of the disease have been rolled out by the Governor of the South West Region, Bernard Okalia Bilai.
He has prohibited open-air defecation, ordered the closure of doubtful water sources, and has promised that the water utility company, CAMWATER, will be called to order to start regular supply of potable water.
“Hospitals are overcrowded and doctors and nurses are working round the clock to save patients,” Okalia Bilai reassured.
“The solidarity fund which has been set up will be used to buy drugs, foot (patients’) bills and also sensitize the population to adopt best hygienic practices to keep cholera at bay,” he said.