University serves communities through health campaign

As part of an initiative to foster closer ties between the university, stakeholders and its surrounding communities, the University of Buea in Cameroon successfully completed the first phase of a campaign aimed at delivering health services and information to vulnerable communities.

University communities and border towns have been earmarked as vulnerable areas to communicable and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases, HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, malaria, diarrhoea, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections and neglected tropical diseases.

These illnesses are among the leading causes of death and disability in low-income communities and marginalised populations, according to a 2021 World Health Organization report.

It is against this backdrop that the Buea University Medical Students’ Association, in partnership with The Iya Foundation – Kidney Resource Center, HERO (Health Education and Research Organisation) Cameroon and the Blood Track blood donation campaigns launched a community health campaign providing screening, consultation and health sensitisation, among other services. It is the first project of its kind by health sciences students at a university in the country.

The first phase of the campaign ran from 31 July 2022 to 7 August 2022 in the seaside border towns of Limbe, Tiko and Mutengene as well as the university town of Buea.

Universities have a responsibility to engage

University authorities said their role is to serve the community and improve the well-being of the vulnerable population. Ngomo Horace Manga, the vice-chancellor of the University of Buea, said the project will be an annual event aimed at preventing and fighting communicable and non-communicable diseases in these vulnerable communities.

“It is the role of universities to engage primarily with compelling and immediate social issues of their immediate communities, alleviating widespread poverty, improving public health, achieving universal primary and secondary education, and enabling locally controlled economic development,” the vice-chancellor said on 7 August on the campus of the University of Buea.

According to health faculty officials, the purpose of the five-day health campaign was to provide free hospital services to the community by offering free consultations, laboratory services and pharmaceutical drug donations to the public. A main goal was to disseminate information about communicable and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and kidney health.

“One of the main goals was to be able to assist patients in the various communities at their point of need. This was achieved by teaming up with brilliant individuals like Dr Tih William at the bench for consultations and counselling, Dr Diana Rose at the bench for screening, and a good number of others who gave their all to ensure the campaign’s success,” said Tambe George, the president of the Cameroon Association of Dialysis and Kidney Transplant and Patients in the southwest of the country.

Goal is positive change in communities

Professor Gregory Edie Halle-Ekane, dean of the faculty of health sciences at the University of Buea, expressed the hope that the project will bring the university and communities much closer to each other, and also help students and health experts improve their research.

“We hope this will allow the University of Buea staff, researchers and students of disease modelling to access the practical skills, perspectives and sensitivity that international experts have in dealing with large-scale disease management while capitalising on those skills that only local organisations can provide. The hope is to enhance outcomes of the project as well as to create positive change in local communities,” Halle-Ekane said.

Ahume David, a fifth-year medical student, said: “The campaign is a welcome initiative that will permit students in training to understand the dynamics and importance of interacting with the local communities and understand their health challenges, even before they engage in full practice after graduation.”

During the campaign, the University Health Campaign caravan crisscrossed the Limbe health area and the West Coast, visiting several neighbourhoods such as Bota, Mokunda, Idenau, Bakingili, Bimbia, Mabeta, Bonadikombo, Ewongo, Bonjongo, Limbola and Batoke along the coast and reaching out to more than 40,000 families. The students visited targeted spots like parks, market women, fish traders, and churches.

Alice Mesember, a market vendor in Limbe, said: “I have learned to dispose of all the waste after sales to avoid diseases like malaria and typhoid, thanks to the campaign.”

Shortages hamper the quality of care

Staff in most hospitals the university community visited complained about the frequent shortage of materials needed to perform dialysis and treat other diseases, causing them to follow an irregular schedule for days and weeks. Unfortunately, this negatively affects the overall quality of health of most patients and often results in death.

Dr Fiona Noah of the Limbe Bota hospital said: “The community health campaign initiated by the university is welcome, especially with the emphasis on preventive measures. Prevention is better than cure. It saves the population the trouble of coming for treatment once infected when the equipment and logistics are not there and most of them cannot afford it.”