In Cameroon, the fight in the shadow of the little hands against the coronavirus

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Marie Yetna is the head of the laundry unit at the Douala gyneco-obstetric and pediatric hospital. Here in April 2020.
Marie Yetna is the head of the laundry unit at the Douala gyneco-obstetric and pediatric hospital. Here in April 2020. JOSIANE KOUAGHEU

Another disinfection … Sprayer on the back, Ebenezer Tchakounté continues operations in the emergency department of the gyneco-obstetric and pediatric hospital in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon. Wrapped in his white jumpsuit, booted, face covered with a visor and gloved hands, the technician “Sanitary engineering” decontaminates everything: corridors, tables, toilets, offices…

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Ebenezer is regularly interrupted by white coats or patients and, invariably, as soon as they see him, come to him to spray their clothes, shoes, handbags … ” Before, I didn’t have as much work. But since this pandemic rages, my role is to avoid contamination Explains the technician.

The Douala Gyneco-Obstetric and Pediatric Hospital is one of the treatment centers for patients with Covid-19 in Cameroon. Here as in other requisitioned hospitals, the nursing staff is mobilized to overcome this pandemic which is now raging in the ten regions of the country, and has already affected 6,585 people for 200 deaths on June 3.

“A fundamental role”

In this struggle, Ebenezer Tchakounté appears as a shadow soldier. Less celebrated than doctors and nurses, the personnel of the hygiene and sanitation service are nevertheless one of the links in the war against the virus. Like the laundresses in the laundry room, the sterilization service or even hospital ambulances. Every day, they are on the job to disinfect, transport patients, wash dirty linen for infected patients, sterilize equipment or wash floors …

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These people play a fundamental role without which we could not do anything. Without them, it would be suicide. Like going to war without arms “Emphasizes Doctor Dominique Djomo, head of the anesthesia and resuscitation department of the gynecological hospital. “ These staff are essential for infection control in hospitals “Added Professor Bertrand Hugo Mbatchou, head of the pulmonology department at the Douala General Hospital, another care center.

In the storage room of the laundry room of the Douala gyneco-obstetric and pediatric hospital, Marie Yetna points to towels, sheets, blouses and clothes, washed and ironed. Masked over the nose, the head of the unit seems tired but satisfied at the end of the afternoon in April. His team of ten people goes as usual to work until the evening, to finalize the final tasks.


The virus being extremely contagious, the process was modified and their work “ accentuated ” Usually, the laundry was sorted according to its degree of dirtiness and a weighing determined the quantity of products to be added. From now on, “The coronavirus linen undergoes special treatment. First, it must be completely disinfected before starting the normal machine washing process and passing through the calender [repasseuse], specifies Marie, who ensures the protection of her teams and reminds them of the vigilance which they must show.

Micheline Nyanda is a maintenance officer at the Douala gyneco-obstetrics and pediatric hospital. Here in April 2020.
Micheline Nyanda is a maintenance officer at the Douala gyneco-obstetrics and pediatric hospital. Here in April 2020. JOSIANE KOUAGHEU

In the adjoining room, the same silent professionalism is at work. Here, men and women in white coats, charlotte on the head, gloved hands and mask on the nose, sterilize the reusable surgical material. Oxygen vents, suction hoses, oxygen masks, forceps and nasogastric tubes taken out of the hospital wards of patients with Covid-19 flock there to be soaked in the decontamination tanks, washed, emptied of all their residues, rinsed with distilled water and finally reconditioned over long and very busy days.

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At the end of his work, Laurent Mevooh, medical and sanitary engineer says he is happy “To provide sterile equipment, free of any micro-organism, to the services”. If the sterilization manager recognizes “Love your job”, he does not hide his concern, shared by most of the people met or interviewed by The World Africa, faced with the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“At the heart of the struggle”

“Doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff are already lacking masks. So, of course, the situation of disinfectants, cleaners, paramedics and those who work in the laundry is even more worrying. ”, admits the coordinator of a treatment and isolation center for patients with Covid-19. ” They do not have priority at the time of distributions and I myself made these errors “, He regrets, constrained by the shortage.

According to this doctor who wished to remain anonymous, many lack masks, overalls, boots … “ They are at the heart of the struggle. Without them, we would be living in an extremely contagious and deadly pile of garbage. And without protection, they are exposed to contamination ”, continues the coordinator. According to the situation report on Covid-19 from May 21 to 25 in Cameroon, 181 health workers have already been infected across the country.

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So, to protect themselves, everyone has their tips. At the central hospital in Yaoundé, in the capital, facing the missing PPE “ most of the time », Nsano Mama, senior technician in sanitary engineering and his colleagues decided to recycle the single use suits. “ After having decontaminated them of course “, Specifies the man who deplores that this material, essential however to their activity, arrives” at very irregular frequencies

“Die to save lives”

Five maintenance, laundry and hygiene staff told us that, in the absence of FFP 3 type surgical masks, they were using fabric mufflers. ” It is not recommended because we work alongside the sick. But it’s better than nothing “Says a maintenance officer shrugging. ” I sometimes wonder if the government cares about us. Our premiums are not paid on time, we lack PPE. What do we risk our lives for in the end? Asked a young woman, also a maintenance worker.

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Despite all these difficulties, this climate of danger and this anonymity, many of these little hands have told us that they are ready “ to die to save lives ” Naomi Djandja is one of those who make extreme sacrifices. From the first cases of coronavirus detected in Cameroon in early March, this young mother did not hesitate to wean her 7 month old baby boy and to entrust him to her husband and her sister-in-law.

Since then, this sanitary engineering technician stationed at the Yaoundé central hospital has lived in the confines of the isolation center, like most of her colleagues. She only comes home on very rare weekends and therefore stays well away from her family.

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When a soldier goes to war, he does not look back. The cause is just. If I don’t come to fight this pandemic, it risks finding me at home “, Naomi wants to believe. At the gyneco-obstetric and pediatric hospital in Douala, Micheline Nyanda shares the same analysis.

Met at work in the anesthesia and resuscitation department, this mother of four and three times grandmother cleans the tiled floor every day. And when her children cry out to her about their concern, she recalls, confident of herself: ” Don’t worry, I respect the barrier measures. And most importantly, I am helping my country win a war against a dangerous virus. “ An anonymous act of bravery. Like many others.

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