Cameroon doctor faces influx of COVID-19 patients

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With the help of a nurse, Dominique Djomo puts on his personal protective equipment – a cap, coveralls, protective glasses, visor and gloves – and starts another day dealing with an influx of COVID-19 cases.

The anesthesiologist’s work at Douala’s gynaecology, obstetrics and pediatric hospital has changed beyond recognition since the first case of the new coronavirus was detected in Cameroon in early March.

The Central African country now has one of the highest case rates in the region, with over 2,000 people infected and more than 60 dead.

While scenes of overwhelmed hospital wards have been broadcast from across Europe and the United States, most African countries have so far been spared much of the mayhem.

As cases rise, however, doctors are beginning to get a taste of the challenges that lie ahead.

Djomo used to spend his days between the operating theatre and emergency rooms and carrying out consultations. Now, the new coronavirus and the people it affects dictate his time.

“I have … no rest, no weekends, no peaceful nights, it is the patients who run my programme,” said the 39-year-old. “This is not the usual care. There are many more precautions to take.”

Douala paediatric hospital was picked by the government as one of a few centres to receive critically ill COVID-19 patients. It has since received over 200 patients, dozens of whom were hospitalized, Djomo said.

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Djomo and his team frequently work 24-hour shifts. Last week, when a Reuters crew visited the hospital, the resuscitation ward was full, its 12 beds occupied by patients.

A lack of space and a shortage of critical supplies such as ventilators has forced Djomo to make some difficult calls.

During the Reuters visit, he had to turn down a request from another clinic that wanted to transfer a patient to the hospital because he only had five ventilators and they were all being used.

Djomo’s family and friends worry that he may get infected.

As in many parts of the world, protective equipment is running short for medical staff in the hospital, including overalls. More than 20 healthcare workers have been infected in Cameroon and at least two doctors have died, said a senior health official.

“I would personally like to make my contribution, that at the end of this epidemic I can be satisfied with myself,” said Djomo. “Family, friends ask me to be careful. But we remind them that it can happen to everyone. Anyone can be sick.”