Cameroon: MSF treating cholera patients in Yaoundé

Following the spread of a cholera epidemic in the capital city of Yaoundé in Cameroon, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) opened a cholera treatment centre and provided care for hundreds of patients.

It is five pm on 31st March at a new cholera treatment centre (CTC) in Yaoundé, which has just been set up. The MSF medical team welcomes its first patient and the process begins straight away. Treatment is administered immediately, the patient is put on an IV drip, and the taxi that transported her is disinfected. She is to be the first of many patients at the CTC.

The first cases of cholera occurred in the capital city in late February. A shocking 377 new cases and 15 deaths were reported in just one week at the end of March. Some of Yaoundé’s working class districts are very densely populated, with extremely limited access to clean drinking water. These are significant risk factors for an epidemic such as cholera.

The epidemic first broke out last year
Cases of cholera were seen in Cameroon as early as May 2010, initially affecting only the far north of the country. Soon after, the Ministry of Health concluded that the area was facing one of the largest cholera epidemics ever seen in the country.

According to official figures, 10,759 cases, 657 of them fatal, were recorded last year. The epidemic went on to spread throughout the rest of the country, until nine of Cameroon’s ten regions were affected. A census on 24th April reported 1,757 cases of cholera in the capital, with 71 having died from the disease.

Faced with an increasing number of patients suffering from cholera in Yaoundé and with the capital’s existing health structures stretched beyond capacity, MSF opened a CTC on the site of Yaoundé University Hospital complex. The building has an initial capacity of 70 beds, extendable to 200 if necessary. On 2nd May 2011, MSF admitted 558 patients into the centre. Already 536 have left, having made a full recovery, and three deaths have been recorded. The MSF ambulance, designed to transfer patients from overstretched health structures to the CTC, has already made over 90 journeys.

“The main way of treating cholera is through rehydration. This can either be achieved orally, by getting patients to drink oral rehydration salts, or intravenously if the patient is no longer able to drink. The dehydration that occurs in cholera sufferers is a result of profuse diarrhoea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting,” explains Gaëlle FAURE, MSF Head of Mission in Cameroon.

MSF and Cholera in Cameroon
MSF’s work in north of the country began with the setting up of eight treatment units in the districts of Maroua, Mokolo and Kolofata. Improving the way existing cholera treatment units operated, keeping patients in isolation, providing quality care and ensuring the purification of water were the principal aims of this emergency mission. 800 patients were treated and 60,000 were provided with clean drinking water. The MSF medical team was present from August to October 2010.

MSF also provided support to the city’s health structures in the districts of Cité Verte, Nkoldongo, Djoungolo and Byemassi, and the nearby town of Obala. Thanks to cholera treatment units, stabilization centres, efforts to train Cameroonian staff, provision of logistical material and isolation units, people in these areas can access treatment as close to home as possible.

A team of health educators travels throughout the town and the surrounding areas to inform hospitals and health centres about the CTC. At the same time, they work in certain areas to increase public awareness of preventative measures that can be taken, and of the correct action to take if cholera symptoms appear.