Doctors Without Borders is being forced to withdraw its teams from Cameroon’s NWR
Yaoundé, August 3rd, 2021 – After nearly eight months of suspension by Cameroonian authorities, Doctors Without Borders has been forced to withdraw its teams from the North-West region, which has been devastated by years of armed conflict between security forces and armed separatist groups.
“We cannot stay in a region where we are not allowed to provide care to people here,” says Emmanuel Lampaert, Doctors Without Borders Central Africa operations coordinator. “Unfortunately, we are unable to keep our staff on standby any longer, so we must withdraw our teams. We will, however, maintain a small liaison office in Bamenda, the regional capital, to continue our discussions with the authorities.”
Doctors Without Borders had been providing free emergency medical care and ambulance services in the North-West region since 2018, until Cameroonian authorities in the region suspended its operations in December 2020. Officially, this was to allow Doctors Without Borders framework for government collaboration to be reviewed. This decision, however, came after a series of allegations accusing Doctors Without Borders of supporting local armed groups, which Doctors Without Borders has consistently and categorically denied, both in meetings with authorities and in public. Despite months of negotiations, authorities refused to allow Doctors Without Borders to resume its medical operations.
“This suspension significantly reduces access to medical services in an area where communities have been severely impacted by armed violence,” Lampaert adds. “We hope that providing medical humanitarian aid to everyone, without exception, will still be possible. People are paying a high price for this situation. We will resume our medical activities as soon as the authorities decide to lift our suspension.”
Since 2018, Doctors Without Borders has been one of the few international NGOs providing free medical care to communities in the North-West region, as well as managing the area’s only 24-hour free ambulance service. Tens of thousands of patients benefited from its assistance each year in a region where access to care has been severely hampered by armed conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the crisis, which has lasted nearly four years and has rendered many healthcare facilities inoperable. Due to financial, security, and geographic constraints, many people are unable to access the remaining open healthcare facilities.
“We also need other organizations to support the Ministry of Health to ensure that vulnerable people are provided with care,” said Lampaert. “It is essential that we support other organizations. “That needs to be done in full respect of health facilities, employees, and patients. We have been witnessing numerous assaults and acts of bullying on medical facilities since 2018 and Doctors Without Borders has not been spared. While we have now to pull our teams down, we call on all parties to the crisis, regardless of whether they are NGO members or the Ministry of Health, to respect healthcare providers. Threats or violence are unacceptable to them and their patients.”
Doctors Without Borders teams in the North-West region treated 180 survivors of sexual violence in 2020, provided 1,725 mental health consultations, performed 3,272 surgeries, and transported 4,407 patients by ambulance, more than 1,000 of whom were women about to give birth.
42,578 consultations, primarily for malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory diseases, were held with Doctors Without Borders-supported community health care workers. In accordance with international humanitarian law, common article 3 of Geneva Conventions, and medical ethics, Doctors Without Borders medical personnel were also direct victims of the armed violence in the area.