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Cameroon: Deputy Coordinator of Operations for the Doctors Without Borders Speaks on Suspension In English Speaking Zones.

Gisa Kohler
Gisa Kohler

Journal du Cameroun spoke to Gisa Kohler , Deputy Coordinator of Operations with the Doctors Without Borders and she brought more light to some pending questions .

DWB has been working in Cameroon since 1984. Today,it implements healthcare projects in the Far North,South West regions and in Yaounde, supporting access to healthcare in communities and hospitals, providing surgical care,malaria treatment and health promotion. Recently , this organization has faced judicial confrontations with the government. Gisa Kohler, Deputy Coordinator of Operations spoke to Journal du Cameroon and brough more light to pending questions.

Asides the detention of 4 medical personnel of the DWB, is there any other reason for this retreat ?

We find ourselves in an untenable position as on the one hand our medical activities are required,  and at the same time those providing the medical support run the risk of being persecuted for doing their work. We have a duty to our patients, but we need basic preconditions to be in place that would enable us to carry out our activities in a safe and secure environment. It’s been clear to us that these conditions or preconditions aren’t there anymore, the medical mission is not only unprotected but prosecuted and we can’t put our staff at risk.

A year ago, the minister of territorial administration suspected some NGOs of associating with separatists by supplying arms. Do you think the arrestation of these 4 doctors could be a fall back of the suspicions of Minister Paul Atanga Nji?

We are not aware of being accused supplying arms. DWB has never facilitated the transportation of arms and ammunition to separatists. We have never provided weapons to anyone. None of our ambulances have been involved in carrying arms and ammunition. This information was wrongfully shared, and this kind of mistake or fake news puts at risk the lives of the patients that we are trying to treat and who are in critical need of medical assistance.
Concerning the detained colleagues, they are not doctors, but the ambulance driver and the ambulance nurse arrested on 27.12.2021 as mentioned in our press release. The ambulance team was arrested when they transported a wounded patient. We assist patients indifferently of their political affiliations. To guarantee access to medical care and essential humanitarian aid while ensuring maximum security for our teams and patients, in Cameroon, as elsewhere in the world, our teams are in contact with all armed actors involved, both state and non-state.

The South west and North west regions are still conflict zones which largely depends on the DWB , how then do you think interior villages will meet up with medical needs admist the ongoing crisis ?

We haven’t taken this decision lightly, it’s been a tough and heavy decision that will affect the access to healthcare to thousands of people. We are aware of that. We have strived to maintain a dialogue with the authorities to redress the situation, to clarify anything related to the way we operate in Cameroon (as in other parts of the world), but to no avail. It’s been 3 months since the first detentions of our colleagues, and we are not seeing any positive change on their situation.

Did the government happen to give instructions prohibiting DWB from rescuing the said separatist ?

On 5 October 2021, clear notification procedures were agreed within the framework of the civil-military platform coordinated by OCHA in relation to the passage and inspection of MSF ambulances.
Under the current standard operating procedures (SOPs), MSF informs the authorities before a patient is referred and provides some basic information about the referral, including the departure and destination locations, whether the patient has an identification card, and the nature of the medical condition.
Since the SoPs were agreed in October 2021, our teams have followed them to facilitate 132 referrals in the region without complications.

With the accusations levied on the DWB by the government has any internal investigation been opened ?

No, as we do not see any wrong doing from our side. We have been treating a seriously wounded patients following the notification procedures. The Ministry of Defense commissioned an independent Cameroonian organization that exonerated our colleagues.

For how long will these regions be isolated by the DWB? And where will the personnel exercise it’s profession in the mean time ?

Unfortunately we are not in the position to respond to this questions. As we have only suspended our activities hoping for an open and honest dialogue with the authorities and a robust humanitarian notification system that permits our staff to conduct their medical activities safely. In the meantime we continue paying our staff and supporting our colleagues in prison.

What must be put in place for effective resumption?

As mentioned before, we need to have these basic preconditions of safety in place and guaranteed by the authorities and we need an open and honest dialogue with the authorities and a robust humanitarian notification system that permits our staff to conduct their medical activities safely. We also need to see a positive resolution on the cases of our detained colleagues.

Published on 03.01.2023

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