Pregnant woman’s shock death puts Cameroon’s healthcare under spotlight
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Many contributors have sent us a particularly shocking video that has sparked an uproar in Cameroon. The footage was shot in a hospital in Douala on the morning of March 13. The pregnant woman and her family were turned away, because a doctor said she was dead. Her sister, who said she thought that she “still felt the babies moving”, decided to try to save the unborn twins by slicing open her sister’s belly with a blade, right in front of the hospital.
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.
On Sunday, about a hundred protesters, who believed the family’s version of events, gathered in front of Laquintinie hospital with signs reading “Never again a Monique Koumate in my country”. Our Observer Stéphanie, who lives in Douala, went to the protest.
"Poor people can't get access to hospital care"
Joël is a journalist in Douala.
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.MANIFESTATION A LAQUINTINIE
MANIFESTATION DEVANT L'HOPITAL LAQUINTINIESE TAIRE, NE RIEN FAIRE, ETRE NEUTRE EST PIRE QUE CRIMINEL!RAPPEL DES FAITS:Une femme qui décède devant un hôpital faute de moyen. Arrivée à l’hôpital les médecins refusent de la prendre en charge parce qu'elle n'a pas d'argent.. Chose surprenante ce sont ses soeur qui ouvrent son ventre avec une lame rasoir pour essayer de sauver les bébés. Quel images pour le Cameroun .Les bébés sont-ils vivant ? ......Malheureusement aux dernières nouvelles ils ont aussi perdus la vie grâce à ceux qui ont prêter serment de sauver des vies humaines. .Que c'est pathétique pour les hôpitaux du CamerounQuel sadisme et méchanceté au point de laissé mourir 02 bébés innocent. ..Une plainte doit être déposer contre cette instance criminelle sur cet acte de non assistance à personnes en danger et de plus pire encore des bébés. ..Que la communauté internationale sur le programme de la santé saisisse cet affaire qui ne doit rester sans suite afin que justice soit faite pour ces bébés innocent. ..ceci pour en sauver d'autres qui peuvent subir le même sortMAINTENANT PLACE A LA MANIPULATION :Faites Attention! Les agents de manipulation de l’opinion nationale et internationale sont deja en marche. Une premiere tentative de manipulation qu’ils essayent de faire passer est de dire que Monique et ses bebe étaient deja décédés avant d’arriver a Laquintinie (Dites meme qu’ils sont morts 4 jours avant). Une autre tentative de manipulation veut faire croire q l’opinion que la courageuse soeur de monique serait l principale responsable du drame ceci juste pour dédouaner les médecins et infirmiers principaux responsables de ce drame.Posted by Vert Rouge Jaune on Sunday, March 13, 2016
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.
Protesters being sprayed with tear gas. Photo sent by our Observer Stéphanie.
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.