Hospital on front line of Cameroon anglophone conflict

Buea's regional hospital looks like any other in Cameroon, with its long whitewashed corridors and smartly dressed doctors and nurses.

But it is on the front line of the battle raging between government forces and the fighters of a nascent English-speaking insurgency.

Between 10 to 20 of hospital director George Enow Orock's medical staff have fled since the conflict began one year ago following a symbolic independence declaration by so-called "Ambazonia Republic" separatists.

"We have seen an upsurge in patients with trauma, most obviously from gunshot wounds," said Orock, 62, a doctor for 34 years.

The violence has claimed the lives of at least 420 civilians, 175 members of the security forces and an unknown number of separatists, according to the International Crisis Group think-tank.

"Unfortunately we have seen a decline in our regular patients. Women coming for antenatal care, children coming for their routine vaccines, post-natal management and routine patients with commonly known illnesses."

Orock, whose office is adorned with a plethora of diplomas and qualifications, said that before the conflict the hospital would treat roughly one gunshot wound a year.

The trauma team now handles between five and ten per week.

Mbuh Ronaldo, 20, was shot in the hip by police on Monday in a case of mistaken identity at a checkpoint in the Sandpit area of Buea, he said.

 'Two options: gun or machete' 

"They said Ambaz used to walk through that route," recalled Ronaldo, an anglophone Cameroonian, who was evidently in pain and had a large dressing on his right hip, using a local term for the separatists.

"They realised it was a mistake," he added, wearing a red hooded jumper and clutching a set of white prayer beads. "They had to help me up and take me to hospital."

His mother Obedia sat on an adjacent bed in the sparsely equipped ward fighting back tears, gesturing to a jar of Ovaltine and other groceries bought by neighbours for Ronaldo's hospital stay.

Army patrols and checkpoints are common sights across the southwest region, of which Buea is the capital, and the northwest which together make up the anglophone areas of Cameroon.

Eighty percent of the country is French-speaking, and 20% anglophone.

"See at 10:30, this corridor would have been packed," said Orock as he weaved through the hospital checking on patients' progress and greeting staff by name.

In southwest Cameroon alone, 246 000 people have been displaced, according to the UN.

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A number of the civilians who have remained behind have suffered at the hands of either the separatists or the security forces.

"One young man I know by name called me. The guys said we were supporters of the (pro-government) mayor. I saw two other guys come and one guy just pulled out a gun," said Motome Beckley, 48, who was attacked at his home on Sunday.

"One guy just said 'shoot him let's go'. The other guy behind me had the gun and the machete so he started cutting me. He said 'we are giving you two options: gun or machete'."

 'Very tense situation' 

The separatist attackers, who accused Beckley of collaborating with the authorities, hacked off his right hand above the wrist.

In the next ward a man with a series of pins in his right leg said he was beaten by soldiers who suspected him of being a separatist.

"I can't walk. It was the military that attacked me," said Enowtabi Ashu, 32, of the incident in the nearby coastal resort town of Limbe in early August.

"They used an iron bar and they started beating me. They said I am an Amba."

Orock said that cases like Ashu's were among those "that stress the hospital".

"Our staff are working with a lot of psychological trauma... the regional hospital Buea, like all hospitals, bears the brunt of the conflict."

President Paul Biya, who will seek a seventh term in polls on Sunday, has vowed to invest in healthcare but has made no public reference to the burden of conflict on the anglophone region's hospitals and clinics.

Another consequence of the unrest is that bodies of victims have gone unclaimed because families cannot afford funerals - or because the deceased were linked to the separatists.

"Maybe they're civilians, maybe they're Amba - there is no way of knowing," said Orock.

Of the 30 bodies crammed into the hospital mortuary's nine fridges, ten are unclaimed victims of the conflict, Orock estimated.

"The separatists find themselves in the hospital, the military unfortunately also find themselves in the hospital. Both parties expect maximum cooperation and efficiency - sometimes without payment," said Orock.

"These are things the hospital does not budget for. It's a very tense situation. We pray it cools off."

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