At least 600 people in the town of Maroua in North Cameroon have died of malaria over a period of one month. Hundreds more are receiving treatment at overcrowded hospitals.
In the courtyard of Pont Vert hospital in Maroua in North Cameroon, a group of people is sitting around a four month old baby girl. The baby and her sick mother are receiving anti-malaria treatment. The mother' and father told DW they were outside the hospital because there was no space for them inside the building. "When you go in, you are asked to lie on the floor, so we prefer to receive treatment here outside, just as many others are doing," Mr Ousmaila Toukour said.
Abdoulaye Abo is also sitting nearby with his wife and six-year old daughter. All are sick. The husband said he had been taking medication he bought from a roadside vendor. Now he needs urgent medical attention. "I fell sick just after my wife and daughter. The malaria attacks this year have been the worst so far," he told DW.
Dead shortly after arrival
Another clinic – the regional hospital – is just three kilometers (1.9 miles) away. It is also crammed full of patients sleeping on the floor. Palai Monique is the duty nurse and she told DW all their wards were occupied by people suffering from malaria, mostly children under the age of 15. "There have been moments when we had no space for serious cases and we recorded situations in which some children died as soon as they got here," she said.
According to figures released by the Maroua urban health district, a total of 10,130 patients were admitted for treatment at 10 government health facilities within a space of one month. Almost every household in the district has been affected. No figures are available for those who have been treated at private hospitals or who are suffering at home.
Malaria is caused by a parasite infecting mosquitos that feed on humans. It kills 660,000 people each year
Free mosquito bed nets
Dr Etienne Fonjo, secretary of Cameroon's program for the fight against malaria, blames the upsurge on people trying to treat themselves when noticing early signs of the disease instead of going straight to hospital. Another factor contributing to the rise in the incidence of the disease was the failure of many people to use treated mosquito bed nets. Climate change was also playing a role. He said the authorities were doing what they could to control the disease.
"Free treatment for children under five, free treatment for pregnant women and recently free distribution of treated mosquito bed nets to 80 percent of households," he said.
Cameroon state radio said the outbreak had claimed 600 lives within a month. Local media put the figure at around 1,000.