The babies, however, had already died.
We decided not to publish the graphic video, which has sparked a wave of anger across Cameroon. The day after the video was published, several hundred people gathered in front of the hospital to protest Cameroon’s failing healthcare system.
The family of the victim, Monique Koumate, told local press that Monique was still alive when they got to the emergency room. They claim that the real reason doctors refused to see her was because the family didn’t have enough money to pay the hospital fees. The family state that they begged the medical staff to take her, but in vain.
During a press conference held on Sunday, Public Health Minister Mama Fouda André defended the hospital by giving another version of events. She said that when the woman arrived at the hospital, she had already been dead for four hours.
"Poor people can't get access to hospital care"
This story really affected me, all the more so because, sadly, stories like this are common in Cameroon because of the high price you have to pay to be admitted into a hospital. You have to pay a deposit before you see a doctor or have an operation.
Two years ago, my sister almost died in the hospital in very similar circumstances. She was giving birth at a hospital, but there were complications and the only solution was to perform a Caesarian. However, a Caesarian costs almost 200,000 CFA [Editor’s note: equal to 30 euros]. She didn’t have enough money with her because she didn’t think she’d need a Caesarian, so the doctors didn’t want to perform the surgery. She had to wait for our family to get the money and bring it to the hospital before the doctors would start working. My sister could have died waiting.
Video of Sunday's protest.
Because of this system, the poorest people don’t have access to care. It’s terrible, but there are many cases of relatives attempting operations like the one in the video.
This story could have remained a small news item, but a few different factors contributed to the fact that it ended up provoking a widespread response. First of all, the video of the improvised Caesarian was widely shared across social media.
Also, this is the second case of a pregnant woman dying in Douala in less than two months. In January, a young woman died in a hospital in unexplained circumstances.
I joined about 200 other people in protesting. The protesters wanted the director of the hospital to step down. They were also calling for the sister of the deceased – the one who performed the improvised Caesarian in front of the hospital – to be released as she was arrested after the events.
Unfortunately, the protest was shut down when security forces used tear gas on the protesters.
It’s possible that this woman’s family brought her to the hospital too late but, unfortunately, for many families, seeing a doctor is a last resort. It’s common for women to die at home because they haven’t been properly cared for during their pregnancy.
There are numerous problems at play here: first of all, hospitals are expensive. But there is also a lack of awareness and education about health which means that Cameroonians often seek out treatment when it is already too late.
This case has put pressure on the government. An opposition party has called for the government to meet with health professionals to find ways to fix the shortcomings in Cameroon's hospitals. According to the local press, a parliament member belonging to the ruling party even demanded the health minister’s resignation.
According to a study by the World Health Organisation in 2011, the maternal mortality rate in Cameroon was 782 deaths per 100,000 births. Health Minister André Mama Fouda called these numbers “unacceptable”. In 2014, he launched a programme to address the issue.