Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in China in December 2019, and subsequently in Cameroon in March 2020, the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) Health Services has continued to ensure that its leaders get all updates that will enable effective implementation of health services while incorporating all aspects of COVID-19.
In line with this policy of keeping its leaders abreast with COVI9-19, the institution organized a 1-day workshop on August 8, 2020 to enlighten leaders on several aspects on managing the pandemic side-by-side the delivery of quality health care to clients.
The workshop examined the following aspects: What is working, what is not working and the barriers of COVID-19; COVID-19 Special Orientation for Health Care Workers (HCWs), caregivers and healthy patients; the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) by caregivers and patients in the facility; Setting up COVID-19 Testing Booths in Health Facilities; COVID-19 special care for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs); Identifying clinical features of COVID-19 early in the workplace; COVID-19 treatment availability in the CBC Health facilities, COVID-19 and Psychological First Aid; and COVID-19 and people living with disability. Through the workshop, the CBCHS intends to building innovative sustainable strategies of integrating the management of COVID-19 in all aspects of service provision.
Opening the workshop, the Director of the CBC Health Services Professor Tih Pius Muffih reiterated the importance for everyone to take COVID-19 seriously just like all other killer diseases. He emphasized that the best strategies must be employed to prevent such diseases. He said the come-together to strategize on how to fight this deadly disease is evidence that all hands must be put on deck to conquer the common universal enemy.
In his updates to the leaders, Dr. Edouard Katayi, Coordinator of the CBC Health Services Task Force against COVID-19 noted that after the outbreak of the epidemic since March 2020, there were restriction measures which were recently lifted leading to the resumption of activities such as the re-opening of borders to enable people to enter Cameroon upon the presentation of proof of a negative COVID-19 test result. Dr. Edouard said there has also been a development regarding the management of COVID-19 among pregnant women. A guideline has also been developed in Cameroon to ensure that children who resume school to sit for examinations do not get infected or spread the disease and how to manage them in case of any infection.
As at the moment, Cameroon is still following the treatment protocol using chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, and vitamin C despite some of the controversies. With regards to case identification, the CBCHS COVID-19 Task Force Coordinator added that the decentralization of Treatment Centers has rendered testing more accessible. This, he opined, has led to more cases being identified though the number of cases are not as high as it was during the peak week.
In order to render personalized healthcare, the CBC Health Services has also ensured that different programs with different health needs are cared for appropriately during the COVID-19 period. Examples of such programs include but not limited to the Socio-Economic Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SEEPD) program which has developed strategies to ensure that services reach out to all persons with disabilities. According to the SEEPD Program Manager, Mr. Awa Jacques Chirac, actions to ensure inclusion in the National Response against COVID-19 have included the development of prevention messages in accessible formats for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). The program has also written an official letter to the Ministries of Health and Communication to draw attention on the necessity for an accessible and inclusive health promotion and prevention campaign.
With respect to the People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV), who are already living with pre-morbid conditions and compromised immune systems, the CBC Health Services has also put measures in place to ensure that they receive the best care, given their vulnerability to the severe forms of the infection. Because PLHIV are more prone to the severe forms of COVID-19, their needs are effectively met to prevent infection.
Dr. Chiabi Eugene, site physician for the HIV Free Project of the CBC Health Services used the occasion to elaborate on the measures put in place to serve PLHIV during this pandemic. To achieve this, there has been the reduction of contact between PLHIV and the hospital settings especially those that can expose clients. In the care of PLHIV, these measures also include differentiating the care for the patients and rendering multi-months dispensation to avoid coming to the hospital regularly for refills. Follow-up is also done remotely via phone calls, coupled with psychosocial support and adherence counselling. However, unstable clients and those in need of clinical attention visit the hospitals.
The program also engages in home visits for viral load sample collection for further transmission and analysis in the laboratory. Services to protect this group also extend to community dispensation to limit the number of clients coming to the facilities, with those who come to the facilities following all necessary preventive measures from wearing of PPE, social distancing, regular hand washing, and intentional staggering of appointments.
It is worth noting that in facilities, the HIV Care and Treatment Centers are in dedicated places and patients are reduced from seeing multiple healthcare workers when they visit the facilities. Healthcare workers have been empowered to render services from counselling, index testing and sometimes dispensation. This reduces circulation and prevention of infection. Healthcare workers, according to Dr. Chiabi, need to take extra measures to prevent unnecessary exposure of PLHIV and other Non-Communicable Diseases to COVID-19.
In as much as all these measures are put in place, COVID-19 has come with several consequences including psychological trauma. This is a result of the anxiety, fear, worry etc associated with the disease. This has given rise to Psychological First Aid which is a non-intrusive psychological means used by first responders to help people passing through traumatic situations to go endure without a psychological breakdown.
According to Ngwen Frankline Siekwiwoh, the Mental Health Supervisor of the CBC Health Services the pressure in people now is higher and people can likely breakdown with psychological trauma, hence the necessity for the First Responders Therapy that allows them cope with the situation. Frankline said, given the WHO guidelines, the CBC Health Services has trained frontline staff to incorporate Psychological First Aid PFA) to the care they render. He explained that the Mental Health Department of the CBC Health Services has also established a working mechanism to ensure that Psychosocial Support is incorporated in their daily activities during the pandemic. They also render remote PFA, a free telephone line that enables people to call and give comprehensive PFA by phone.
Like all other novel viruses, COVID-19 has come with its peculiarities and the CBC Health Services has consistently developed healthcare approved strategies to render quality healthcare as always in spite of the challenges.