Authorities in Cameroon have warned infant and maternal mortality rate could increase in 2020 following a drop in the number of pregnant women who have visited hospitals in the past five months since the first case of the COVID-19 was recorded in March 6 in Cameroon.
According to a study carried out by Cameroon’s Ministry of Public Health, about 137,000 deliveries would not take place in health centres as some pregnant women have resorted to other indigenous means or self medication as they fear to contract the virus believed to be rampant in hospitals.
Though some pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers continue to desert health centres in Cameroon, the country is yet to record a COVID-19-infant related death.
So far, about 787 children in Cameroon have tested positive of the COVID-19, with 211 of them aged between 0-9 and 576 aged between 10-19, statistics from the Ministry of Public Health reveal.
Telemedicine for pregnant women
However, some of the women say they prefer to stay home for the safety of their (unborn) babies).
Paulette Ngoumou, a 32-year old breastfeeding mother in Mendong, aneighbourhood in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde has stopped going to the hospital for antenatal. She has since resorted to local medicine after seeing the number of COVID-19 cases rise at the Yaounde Central Hospital where she used to go for consultations.
“My mother is very knowledgeable with local herbs for children and she has been helping me whenever my child is sick,” Paulette says adding that she is ready to start going back to the hospital with her four-month old baby when she is reassured the risk of contracting the virus is very low.
On her part, Adeline Mambo another Yaounde resident who is heavily pregnant has equally stopped going for prenatal. But she has embraced telemedicine as she consults with a doctor using her mobile phone and internet.
“I consult with a doctor at a health centre and based on my complaints, he can either send me a prescription or send a team to meet me where I am for further diagnosis before prescription,” she says.
Like Adeline, several pregnant women have adopted this approach which is equally used by those in rural areas who don’t have easy access to health centres.
”We do not want to let the COVID-19 emergency separate pregnant women, mothers and children from our urgent, life-saving medical care or disease prevention programs. Both are absolutely critical to the public health of thousands of Cameroonians,” Dr Ndansi Elvis, medical practitioner who has set up telemedicine schemes in at least three regions in Cameroon said.
He however admitted the need for pregnant women to continue going to the hospitals whenever it is necessary.
Baby Box to entice pregnant women
It is in a bid to encourage pregnant women to go to the hospitals that the government of Cameroon in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population Assistance, UNFPA launched a project called ‘Baby Box’ which they say will overturn the trend.
“The Baby box is a set of kits that a newborn baby in the Cameroonian context needs. These tools, generally used by the majority of women when their babies are born, include clothing, personal hygiene kits, laundry, Covid-19 prevention and a mercury thermometer, among others,” Cameroon’s Minister of Public Health, Dr Malachie Manaouda said on Thursday while unveiling the project.
He added that Health personnel will hand the Baby Box free of charge to women who are delivered of their babies at recognized health facilities.
The project will first be implemented in 21 selected health centres across five regions before the second phase will cover the remaining five regions, UNFPA’s Resident Representative Batoul Oussein said.