By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Dr Martin Mokake, Director of the Buea Regional Hospital say for them (medical personnel) to put their lives in danger is not much of a problem, but putting their lives without the necessary protective equipment is uncalled for. The Director was speaking to PAV’s Cameroon Reporter in an exclusive interview on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
The Director has stated that it is impossible for you to suffocate to death while wearing a mask, while also detailing the psychological difficulties the health personnel go through taking care of COVID-19 patients.
” Together if we organize ourselves individually, and respect the measures put in place by the government, and the Ministry of Health we will be able to fight this deadly virus and win,” says Dr Mokake
PAV: Some Cameroonians still do not believe that coronavirus exists. What do you say to them?
Dr Martin Mokake: Coronavirus is here; it is ravaging the society, killing people, and making others very sick, and yet, I do not understand why someone would not believe it exists. Sometimes I have heard a lot of postulates; some people say it is a way for hospitals and governments to make money. The question I ask myself is that all governments will come together from Europe, Asia, America, Africa to formulate something that deceives the whole world, I think it is far fetched.
Coronavirus has come to kill us, to make our lives difficult, it has come to destroy economies of many countries, and I think the earlier we start believing and seeing that coronavirus is not our friend, then that is the first step to defeating coronavirus. If someone does not believe then he will not take the measures lay down by the government, and WHO. When they do not do that the infection rate climbs.
PAV: There is the call from the government for everyone to wear face masks, how long should an individual wear these masks, and what are the potential health risks of wearing the masks?
Dr Martin Mokake: Recently, I have read a lot about masks choking people to death, which is completely false. I will employ you to do a little exercise, cover your nose, and mouth tight and do not breath; you will found out that you cannot do that because your brain will not even allow you to do that. A mask cannot suffocate you to death, it is impossible.
Looking into wearing the masks, normally we can wear a surgical mask for approximately 3 hours, and it needs to be changed. However, surgical masks are not for everybody. First, they are rare to come by and definitely we cannot have that for everybody. What we use in the society are masks that are made up of fabrics, and sometimes people factually complain that they do not breath well with those masks, it is a possibility. I will advise that if you are not in a position, in an area where there are many people, or if you are alone, why would you want to wear a mask?
The standardized masks have been made in such a way there are filters (the air you are breathing goes through the masks, and the air you are breathing is not the air in the mask — air without the masks). I have heard theories of carbonmonoxide poisoning because of masks, and factually it is impossible. However, there is always a nasty feeling when you put on the masks for long hours; the air you exhale usually comes out with the body temperature and so, it is hot. Without the masks, you do not feel that but with it, you feel the hot air. We need to make a decision here, wear the masks and save lives with its inconveniences or not to wear the masks and be exposed.
PAV: As a doctor, you work with nurses, especially in the COVID ward, what are some challenges you and the nurses go through on a daily basis?
Dr Martin Mokake: Our challenges are enormous. I want to salute the medical personnel that are risking their lives to save human lives. We have been victims of slander, victims of molestation, people have beaten up medical personnel, people have spat on them, and people have abused them and accused them wrongly. Yet, those are people who never come to the media, or social media to justify themselves.
Many people think since we are medical personnel we do not have feelings, or we do not have, “heart” or we do not have families. Putting our lives in danger is not much of a problem, but putting our lives without the necessary protective equipment is uncalled for. We have been having a lot of challenges fighting against the COVID-19 with the limited resources we have, blaming nobody as we all know that no government was prepared to fight the virus. Fighting the coronavirus comes with various psychological difficulties; when you think how medical personnel are completely exposed. If you have a little fever or headache you think you are down as well. It is not a secret that we have had a lot of medical personnel with the South West Region tested positive for COVID-19. We are trying within the Regional Hospital in Buea to put mental health nurses and clinical psychologists at the disposition of our medical staff and our patients to make sure that we can boost their psychology.
PAV: Many people in the society have accused hospital staff of tagging anyone as COVID patients. Does the hospital do that?
Dr Martin Mokake: I think they may have a point, and they may also have to listen. Sometimes people want to see what they want to see. We in the hospital have advised that if you do not have something pertinent to do in the hospital please do not come. It does not mean if you come we will catch you and lock you up, it simply means the hospital is a high risks area where people can get infected. We do not have the logistics to keep people, so there is no point coming to the hospital and say you have flu, someone is going to quarantine you for any reason. Nobody tags anybody a COVID-19 patient.
Not every cough or flu or fever is COVID-19. How do we know it is not COVID-19, we have to examine you are take some simple steps. So do we assume that this flu is not COVID-19 and send you home to die? Our society is always about accusation, and yet, the reality needs to be handled. We are not going to tag anybody, we have strict rules in this hospital that do not disclose the identity of anybody’s test death or alive. Families have the results in their pocket, but they do not belief it is COVID-19 because they feel that it is a stigma. It is not and nobody goes to buy it in the market.
PAV: Does the hospital burry COVID-19 patients?
Dr Martin Mokake: We should know that the hospital does not burry patients. We have heard rumours that when people die the hospital takes them away and burry. It is unethical, and the hospital is never going to do anything that goes against medical ethics. It is responsibility of the council to do the burial. When a COVID patient dies in the hospital it is there the hospital’s responsibility ends, the council comes to the hospital, disinfect it for burial. We do not even disinfect graves, nobody does that. So if you slammed the hospital for not coming to disinfect the grave we will forgive you for ignorance but it is our responsibility to educate you on what it is supposed to be.
PAV: There is a situation now in Buea where people who may have symptoms to call instead for the call to be picked in Buea it is done so in Yaounde wasting so much time. What is being done to decentralize the call centres?
Dr Martin Mokake: Yes, the national numbers that have been given (1510) is still a centralized call system. This is one of the things we have been discussing in meetings, and they are working on, to decentralize. We understand that every society has its peculiarities. For example, a mother in Ekona wants to call because she has symptoms and knows how to speak just Pidgin English, and she calls and someone respond to her in English or French, and she cannot really understand they become frustrated. We have tabled this problem, and we have told them (Officials in Yaounde) that this is something that the population is not happy about. The national call centre should be decentralized why not even at the level of the sub divisional level that within Buea you have a call centre in Buea, Limbe, Tiko, and Muyuka and there we will be able to serve the population even better.
PAV: How equipped is the Buea Regional Hospital to take care of COVID-19 patients?
Dr Martin Mokake: It is equipped to a certain level; we do not have ventilators here to put people on artificial ventilation. We have been working with other partners to try to equip the ward (COVID ward). What we have is a 20 bed facility (refurbished with the help of MSF, and the government of Cameroon). We have 10 beds for the confirmed cases, and 10 for the suspected cases. We are working with the protocols from the WHO as stipulated from the time of the Ebola virus. We are also constructing a 24 VIP area whereby we are going to use for isolation as it is in the roofing stage. An ambulance has been set aside for the transportation of COVID patients. The hospital spends a lot to take care of its patients and staff.
PAV: How long should someone wait for the results of their test?
Dr Martin Mokake: Testing has evolved recently because we had a problem whereby we will send the tests to Yaounde it will take one week before we get the results and it caused a lot of psychological problems to the patients. Now, the testing centre in the University of Buea is fully functional, and we have our results 24 hours or 48 hours maximum. In this case it has help in the management of patients. The workers including myself have routines times when we see that we should be tested to make sure that we are ok and not also serving as a source of contamination to our patients who are not suspects.
PAV: Any Message to the Population?
Dr Martin Mokake: We just want to encourage the population and thank them for their understanding. If you have any symptoms please try to contact any health personnel around your vicinity, and they will advise you on what to do. Together if we organize ourselves individually, and respect the measures put in place by the government, and the Ministry of Health we will be able to fight this deadly virus and win. We will continue the fighting because even when we are tired we cannot stop fighting because our primary aim is the community, and our patients.
The picture now shows a rising level of infections within the South West Region. As at May 27, the South West Region has a total of 97 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Region. The major areas include: Mamfe, Kumba, Buea, and Limbe.