DOUALA, Cameroon — Over 1,000 illegal health facilities and private clinics have sprung up in the capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé, and in the coastal city of Douala. With the country’s 22 million people facing high rates of HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and infant mortality, the health care crisis has led many to seek help from unauthorized clinics. But the government, which views these illegal health clinics as a threat to public health, has kicked off a campaign to shut down more than 524 medical training centers and 600 private clinics operating illegally in the nation.
According to Biwole Sida, the national health inspector in the Ministry of Public Health, “Most of the illegal medical institutions lack the training, appropriate staff, equipment and infrastructure to operate either as a medical training institution or a clinic,” adding that, “the uncontrolled number of clinics and training institutions are responsible for the death and worsening medical conditions of many innocent Cameroonians.”
Some clinics operate without a license; others are run illegally from private homes. If these clinics meet standards in regards to their staff, equipment and hygiene they will be asked to legally register with the Cameroon National Medical Council. The illegal health clinics that do not successfully register will be closed down.
It was the government, however, that encouraged the opening of these medical clinics about 20 years ago. People were authorized to start health practices as a Common Initiative Group, a government scheme to ease the establishment of not-for-profit groups which are exempt from taxation and did not need proof of initial capital to run clinics. Many owners who acquired medical licenses by becoming a CIG are now being forced to close their practices due to lack of proper qualifications.
Nonetheless, some private clinic operators claim that they are providing a much-needed service to the population as the cost of medical treatment and care in government hospitals is prohibitive. In addition to their high prices, public health centers are also extremely crowded and are unable to cater to all patients.
Maxwel Fonyu, a laboratory technician and owner of a small clinic in Yaoundé, says that millions of people living in urban slums depend on affordable medical care from private clinics in their neighborhoods. “In my clinic, for example, instead of asking for 5,000 francs for a malaria test, like it is done in big hospitals, I only charge them 500 francs to conduct a malaria test and to prescribe and sell them medicines that are affordable and vital for their treatment,” he said.
Without a reliable system to control the quality of care these private clinics are providing, however, the presence of these clinics can lead to a bigger public health problem. Most of the private practices do not have qualified personnel, thereby putting the lives of innocent people in the hands of unprofessional and unskilled citizens. With anyone able to open a medical institution, the government is required to take the necessary measures to regulate safe, secure and authorized medical centers throughout the country.
– Abby Bauer