YAOUNDE – Cameroon has bowed to pressure from rights groups and ordered investigations into the management of the COVID-19 solidarity fund contributed to by civilians. The rights groups said most of the $40 million cash and material had been embezzled. An outcry was sparked after rights groups said 4,000 bags of rice donated to COVID-19 patients were illegally sold.
About two dozen people are this Monday morning at the Messassi government hospital in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde for consultations. Among them is 27-year- old Ernestine Sahmo who is visiting for her weekly diabetes control. Sahmo says she and other patients are surprised at the absence of COVID-19 prevention kits at the hospital.
“Most of the time you go there and there is no water. You just find a bucket being placed there without any water in it and at times too you don’t even meet soap,” she said.
The hospital officials declined to comment on the absence of soap to wash hands. But the government of Cameroon said enough thermometers, soap, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, face masks, medicines and sufficient quantities of water were distributed all over the country.
The government said it used money contributed to a COVID-19 solidarity fund to buy the COVID kits. Cameroon president Paul Biya contribited $ 1.8 million to the fund.
Other contributions were received from civilians, companies, minister, lawmakers and senior sate functionaries.
Cameroon also received assistance to fight COVID-19 from foreign governments. The central African state said it received $226 million in emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund.
Other people contributed food with a local company handing to the government huge quantities of rice.
Apande Fadimatou of the NGO “Health fo All” says the government should give an account of how much it received and how much it spent. Fadimatou says some of the medicines the government claims it purchased have not been seen. She says she believes some money, food and nonfood items have been diverted.
She says she is surprised that even for the sake of governance and to respect Cameroon public management principles, an audit has not been conducted on the COVID-19 solidarity fund ordered by Cameroon president Paul Biya. She says the government should give the right information to civilians if it ordered the 4,000 bags of rice weighing 50 kilograms each and some COVID-19 protective materials donated by the people to be sold because it needed money to buy COVID-19 rapid test kits as some people claim.
Cameroon health minister Manaouda Malachie says neither the funds nor the goods had been diverted.
He says the ministry of health with the ministries of territorial administration, finance and trade made sure food items were distributed to all hospitals with COVID-19 patients. He says some food was given to Cameroon’s 10 regional governors to distribute to families and communities hardest hit by COVID-19.
Manaouda says face masks, hand sanitizers, soap and buckets were shared to civilians, and protective kits for hospital staff members distributed in hospitals. He says independent control teams and solicitors were invited to follow up the process and render accounts in case there is need.
Manouda said the government had spent more than $40 million from the fund and from government contributions since March when the first case of COVID-19 was reported. He did not state how much has been contributed.
Manouda said following requests by rights groups and civilians, Cameroon prime minister Joseph Dion Ngute has ordered an investigation into how the funds and material were used.
In July, Human Rights Watch asked Cameroon to disburse funds to support health care facilities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and investigate any missing funds.