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Africa

Cameroon health workers strike over dilapidated hospitals

Hospital workers in Cameroon have gone on strike in protest at 'unbearable' working conditions. Their demands include state-of-the art medical equipment, more drugs to treat patients and action against corruption.

A toddler is weeping in her bed in the emergency ward at Yaounde University Hospital, but there are no medical personnel in sight.

The child's father Odiobo Alain told DW his daughter has been crying for hours, but none of the nurses have attended to her.

But Alain's troubles don't end there. His ailing 72-year-old grandmother is in the same hospital and no doctor has been to see her either.

The patients are being neglected, said Alain. "All the workers of the hospital, like nurses and some doctors, are spending time at their computers. They are refusing to treat patients, which should not happen especially if a patient is dying. The government should do something quickly," he said.

Cameroon's hospital staff say there are withholding their labor until their demands are met. Awono Essomba Luc heads Cameroon's National Union of Health Workers, which called the strike. He doesn't mince words over the dilapidated state of Cameroon's hospitals.

"Imagine a patient coming to hospital to get his health back and then finding himself in a stinking environment," he said.

Luc is not only complaining about poor hygiene, but about medical equipment broken beyond repair and the hospital management.

"It seems that instead of taking care of patients, the general manager rather takes care of money," he said.

On the premises of Yaounde University Hospital, the beat of drums can be heard in the background. This is deliberate and part of the hospital staff's protest. It tells all who enter the premises that something is seriously wrong with this hospital.

No pay for 12 months

Nurse Longue Michael joined the strike. He said "Cameroon is a country where you have to go on strike to get what you are owed, or deserve."

Medica 2014 Messe Düsseldorf

Cameroon's health unions are calling for state-of-the-art medical equipment

Longue also referred to the inability of the government to find a sufficient number of doctors who are prepared to work in remote areas of Cameroon. "Doctors escape the places that are too remote," he said. The nurses stayed there.

Another nurse who is on strike is Mballa Clement. She belongs to the Union of Health and Medical Personnel, which is backing the stoppage along with the National Union of Health Workers.

She says the working conditions at the hospital are unbearable. The government should start to take care of the workers and of equipment maintenance. She had one explanation for the equipment failure.

"I suppose if the machines are broken down every day, it is because they buy what they call 'second hand'." Clement also said that nothing had been working in the radiology department for months.

The healthcare workers want state-of-the-art equipment for their hospital, better access to drugs, and action taken against corruption.

They also claim that most of them haven't been paid for up to 12 months and say they would like the arrears to be paid off.

Cameroon's Minister of Health Andre Mama Fouda says the government is examining the concerns raised by the two health workers' unions, who drew up a list of 16 grievances.

"Most of the issues they raised are pertinent and we have to look for lasting solutions," he said

However, he warned there was no quick fix for most of their demands.

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