Medical staff targeted in Cameroon′s English-speaking regions | Africa | DW | 17.08.2018
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Medical staff targeted in Cameroon's English-speaking regions

Attacks on hospitals by both the military and armed separatists have left medical professionals in Anglophone Cameroon concerned for their lives.

Funeral music blasts from loudspeakers as hundreds of medical staff paid their last respects to two of their colleagues who were killed over the weekend. Holding photos of the deceased, the medics chanted songs as they escorted the coffins to their graves.

Nancy Azah and her husband Njong Paddisco were nurses who ran separate clinics in the small town of Mbengwi in Cameroon's English-speaking Northwest province. It is believed they were shot by the military while on their way to attend to people wounded in the separatist revolt threatening to plunge Cameroon into civil war.

Armed separatists are seeking an independent state for the country's English-speaking regions.

The couple's deaths have provoked outrage among medical staff who say they are being threatened by both sides of the conflict: government security forces accuse them of treating armed fighters and hiding some in hospitals while the armed separatists accuse medical staff of disclosing their identities to the military.

A map of the English and French parts of Cameroon

The central African nation of Cameroon is home to some 24 million people

"Killed just for saving lives"

Arrey Rose, a nurse, says she made the long trip to the funeral from Buea, some six hours drive away, to protest the attacks on health personnel.

"We have mobilized to let the world know that doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and pharmacists are tortured and killed just for saving lives," she told DW. Rose added that she had also been attacked by the soldiers.

"God spared [my life] when I was pulled out of a hospital and beaten just because I was accused of hiding terrorists."

Read more: Can the Catholic Church mediate in Cameroon's Anglophone crisis?

Dr Nick Ngwanyam said the killings of Azah and Paddisco have provoked outrage among medical staff who already feel unsafe carrying out their work because of beatings and threats to them and their families.

Paul Biya salutes (picture alliance/abaca/E. Blondet)

President Paul Biya of Cameroon has been in power since 1982 and will seek another term in October 2018

Specific cases hard to verify

He rattled off a list of examples. "A young medical doctor who had just left school was shot by military men – she did not die. An ambulance was taking a patient from one hospital and somewhere, there in the bush, the military shot at it and damaged the ambulance and hurt the nurse who was accompanying the patient. A medical doctor was beaten up."

Concrete information about specific attacks on medical staff is difficult to verify. Reports have emerged, however, of soldiers entering hospitals in the Northeast region and assaulting medics for treating alleged separatists.

Read more: Cameroonian army kills scores in Anglophone region

Other reports accuse separatists groups of attacking hospitals where wounded government troops were receiving treatment.

The government has not issued a statement.

Laboratory technician Dorothy Veranso, who works in the nearby English-speaking town of Batibo, told DW she was also a victim of an attack.

"Five wounded people were rushed to our health center," she said. "As we started attending to them, the military came in, beat us and took the wounded away. All patients escaped for their lives."

A protest in Germany, where participants with clenched fists march behind a large banner that reads: Demonstrate in Berlin, Free Britisch southern Cameroon

English speakers from largely Francophone Cameroon regularly stage anti-government demonstrations at home and abroad

Human rights group worried

Anecdotal evidence suggests that medical staff are starting to abandon hospitals in the region.

"We were not attended to in the hospital for a week because the staff was absent," said 18-year-old Mundi Ernestine who had taken her brother to Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, for treatment.

"We had to carry him on our back through the bush from Bamenda. He is recovering, but my fear is that many are dying in the bushes just because there is no nurse to help."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented abuses by both the separatists and the military in the Anglophone regions and is aware that medical professionals are among the civilians being targeted, Jonathan Pedneault, an HRW emergencies researcher told DW. 

"They are caught on the one hand between an insurgency that has been using problematic tactics to advance its goals, and on the other hand, a government that is using scorched earth tactics against anyone they suspect is supportive of the pro-independence agenda," Pedneault said.

Read more: Cameroonians flee government troops in English-speaking regions

"It is no surprise that medical professionals would be caught in the crossfire or be directly attacked by either of the parties. It's, unfortunately, a trend that we are seeing in more and more countries – medical professionals, who provide crucial assistance and are protected under international law, are being targeted more and more frequently and that is extremely worrying." 

Benita van Eyssen contributed to this report.

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