Cameroon: Hospital Attacked; Medical Staff, Patients Flee

Damaged building that was part of the torched district hospital in Kumba

Armed men burned down a hospital in the Cameroonian town of Kumba this week, forcing patients and medical staff to flee for their lives. Cameroon's government blamed the attack on separatists demanding independence for Cameroon's English-speaking regions.

The country's national order of doctors has condemned the attack as barbaric.

It was quiet Tuesday at the Kumba district hospital in the southwest region of Cameroon. On a normal day, the hospital cares for hundreds of patients and pregnant women. But none were here today, Feb. 12, 2019, one day after the attack that reduced most of the buildings to ashes.

Nurse Rose Mary Kimbie said the hospital complied with government orders to discharge 90 percent of the patients.

“The patients that were a little bit better, we sent them home,” Kimbie said. “Women who delivered, we sent them back home. We took the instructions that the government gave that serious cases should be dispatched to different hospitals around. I just pray that my colleagues who are out, that ran away from the incident, should come back, since government said they are assuring them of their security.”

About 80 percent of the staff did not report for work Tuesday.

Fourteen-year-old Marvelous Manka, whose mother is being treated for cancer, said her mother may die because their doctor is absent, and there is no one to attend to them.

She said they have been asked to go to another specialist hospital in the neighboring town of Buea.

“All the roads are blocked, and there is no one moving in town,” Manka said. “I just pray to God that the situation should change and everything to come back (to normal). God should just help for this strike to stop.”

The government of Cameroon said at least 20 armed separatists attacked and set fire to the hospital in the early hours of Monday. It says four people, including two patients, were killed.

Local newspapers report that the separatists may have been angry that the hospital was treating government troops wounded in the separatist war and disclosing the identities of armed fighters to the military.

Tetani Ekwe, president of the Cameroon Medical Council, denied the accusations.

He said the national order of Cameroon doctors and all medical staff in Cameroon are speechless because they have always respected neutrality in the conflict between the Cameroon military and armed groups. He said when a priceless service to humanity like health care delivery and a hospital are attacked and torched for whatever reason, the medical staff can only be shocked and expect justice to take its course.

On social media, the separatists insisted that the hospital was torched by Cameroon's military to discredit them and tarnish their image.

Renewed fighting erupted in Cameroon's two English-speaking regions this month after armed separatists began what they call a 10-day lockdown, banning many activities in the war-torn Anglophone regions through Feb. 14.

Cameroon's unrest began in November 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers demonstrated against the growing dominance of French in the officially bilingual country.

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