10, October 2021
Nurses in Cameroon are marking this year’s World Hospice and Palliative Care Day (October 9) with visits to terminally ill patients in the country’s restive North-West and South-West regions. The regions’ ongoing separatist conflict has left hundreds of patients unable to receive regular in-home hospice care. Cameroon’s nurses are calling for that to change.
Mundih Noelar Njohjam a doctor treating patients with terminal diseases at Cameroon Baptist Conventions Health Services in Bamenda, capital of the English-speaking North-West region, says the separatist crisis is depriving many patients of palliative care.
“The high level of insecurity caused by the ongoing crisis has negatively affected access to palliative care for many patients, especially those living with cancers. Patients with terminal diseases are unable to get to health facilities where they can receive adequate palliative care. Consequently, they have to settle for suboptimal palliative care,” Njohjam said.
The Cameroon Association of Terminally Ill Patients reports that more than 900 patients are denied access to palliative care in the English-speaking western regions.
The association says hundreds of patients in need of help to relieve them of pain and suffering are dying in towns and villages. They say several hundred caregivers have fled hospitals in Cameroon’s troubled English-speaking regions since the separatist crisis escalated in 2017.
Hundreds of patients who have the means relocate to safer French-speaking towns to receive medical care for their terminal illnesses. The patients say they prefer to relocate to Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, and Douala, a coastal city where many of their family members have rushed to for safety.
Among others, the nurses visited the Yaounde residence of Christophe Esselebo, a 67-year-old retired teacher who has been living with HIV and liver disease for three years. He says he faces a great deal of stigma from family members and friends.
He says to prevent developing a mental health crisis, he avoids feelings of emotional attachments with family members who have abandoned him because of his condition. He says he avoids mental trauma during his remaining days by being positive about life and making friends on social media with people who think positively.
Esselebo says he regularly follows up treatment recommended by his doctor.
The visit to homes of people living with terminal diseases this year was organized by the Cameroon Association of Terminally Ill Patients and Santo Domingo Cameroon, a center that cares for people with terminal diseases.
Fulbert Kenfack Jiofack, coordinator of Santo Domingo Cameroon, says poverty pushes 70% of sick Cameroonians to seek assistance from African traditional healers. He says because of either illiteracy or lack of financial means, families abandon their members diagnosed with terminal diseases at home until they die.
Jiofack said fighters in the English-speaking western regions and government troops should avoid inflicting more pain on patients who are already suffering from diseases that cannot be cured. He said medical staff members should be allowed to give health care to people in need.
The nurses ask civilians to stop prejudging the terminally ill in Cameroon.
Cameron’s health ministry says the greatest prejudice is shown toward those suffering from infectious terminal diseases such as HIV.
The health ministry says stigma is driven by the thought that those receiving palliative care will die soon and that terminal illnesses are divine punishment for wrongdoing. Some families prohibit palliative caregivers from visiting their sick patients at home, the government reports.
Nurses said the role of palliative caregivers is to ease patients’ physical pain with medicines and provide psychological, emotional and spiritual counseling to people who have life-threatening and terminal illnesses.