Cameroon outcry over razorblade operation to save unborn twins

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Phone footage from Laquintini Hospital, CameroonImage source, Phone footage
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People were distraught as they looked on as the impromptu operation was performed (R)

Mobile phone footage of a woman without medical training cutting open the belly of a dead woman in a desperate attempt to save her unborn twins has provoked an outcry in Cameroon.

The impromptu surgery was done in the open air by a family member with razorblades outside the maternity ward of Douala's Laquintini Hospital, because medical staff refused to help.

One of the babies was dead, but witnesses said the second baby was still alive when it was removed, though it died shortly afterwards.

As the hospital staff refused to help, this has not been corroborated by medical officials.

Marie Sen, Ms Koumateke's mother:

"The mortuary attendant even came and said the babies were still kicking inside the stomach"

About an hour earlier, Monique Koumateke, 31, was nearly full term when her family rushed her to hospital in a taxi after she had become ill.

The midwife on duty told her relatives she was already dead and should be taken to the mortuary.

Then an attendant, Monga Luc, noticed the twins might still be alive.

"The mortuary attendant even came and said the babies were still kicking inside the stomach," her mother Marie Sen told the BBC.

"We went to the maternity ward [again] but they chased us away."

However, when they went back to the main hospital, they were told no-one would help.

This is when a relative of Ms Koumateke's partner, Takeh Rose, rushed to find some razorblades to see if she could rescue the twins.

Onlookers at the hospital two weeks ago filmed the scene and the footage was shared on social media.

'Hospital not to blame'

In the subsequent uproar, police arrested the midwife and nurse on duty that day, as well as Ms Rose and the mortuary attendant. All four have been released on bail as investigations continue.

Image source, _
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Monique Koumateke leaves behind two children aged three and five
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The Koumateke family gathered last weekend to mourn

Hospital officials have not commented, but Health Minister Andre Mama Fouda, speaking after the arrests, said the staff at the state-run institution had done nothing wrong.

A Supreme Court judge has also become involved in the heated debate about the issue online.

Justice Ayah Paul Abine posted on Facebook that the minister's exoneration of the hospital staff needed to be investigated.

Protesters in Douala have been calling for Mr Fouda to resign.

"Hospitals now are just money-making businesses," one resident told me.

Image source, AFP
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Opposition leader John Fru Ndi said the case highlighted the problems in Cameroon's healthcare system

Cameroonians do not receive free health care and have to pay for consultations as well as medicine, which can be costly.

It is not uncommon for people to be detained at hospitals until their bills are paid.

According to the UN, 28% of Cameroon's population live below the income poverty line.

'Pay first, treatment later'

The recent death of a pregnant medical doctor in Douala caused similar outrage.

Dr Helene Ngo Kana had an ectopic pregnancy and was unable to pay for medical assistance - and so died in Douala's General Hospital without getting any help.

"This is a regime of shame. You have to pay before they deliver you; pay before you are treated," said opposition leader John Fru Ndi, condemning the poor treatment of patients at state-run hospitals.

He made the comments after visiting the Koumateke family at their run-down house in Douala's Mboppi slum. Ms Koumateke leaves behind her partner and two children aged three and five.

More than a dozen lawyers have now clubbed together to fight for justice for those who came to Ms Koumateke's aid.

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Lawyers have clubbed together to offer to help the Koumateke family

They are offering their services free of charge to help win compensation for Ms Koumateke's children and her partner, as well as defending Ms Rose and the mortuary attendant.

"We are first of all humans, then lawyers. This sad incident could not leave anyone indifferent," said attorney Guy Olivier Moutin.

"It's a fight for the widower and the two children left behind. And we will defend two of the four arrested… we will fight for their total freedom."

And civil society leaders in Doula, like Ferdinand Ndifor, are calling for a full investigation into Cameroon's health system.

"Are the hospitals equipped? Are there enough doctors on duty?" he asked.

"We want to know - will this happen again tomorrow?"

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