Cameroon has agreed to give the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) a 30% discount on the treatment of thousands of refugees in government-run hospitals and health centres.
UNHCR will now pick up only 70% of refugees’ medical bills under an agreement signed with the Ministry of Public Health in Yaounde on Wednesday.
The discount excludes medicines and births, which are dealt with separately.
Before now, the UNHCR paid the full medical bill, including costs of approved specialist treatments and medications, when refugees visited government-run health services.
The convention concluded several years of negotiations between Cameroon and UN agencies.
The Minister of Public Health Andre Mama Fouda and the UNHCR country representative Khassim Diagne signed the document on Wednesday.
The discount affects healthcare delivery to more than 300,000 refugees from Nigeria and the Central African Republic living in the Adamawa, East, Far North and North regions.
Hundreds of refugees fleeing terrorism at the hands of Boko Haram and political/religious clashes in the CAR have poured into Cameroon over the past decade.
By June 2016, the UNHCR had registered 259,145 Central African refugees scattered in the rural areas of the East, Adamawa and North regions. More than 158,000 of them came into the country during the last three years alone.
In the Far North, the number of Nigerians running away from Boko Haram killings and destructions rose to 65,172, with about 57,000 living at the Minawao refugee camp outside Mokolo.
Authorities, the UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations are dealing with a complex humanitarian crises that includes more than 190,000 Cameroonians internally displaced by the combined impact of insecurity created by Boko Haram and military reprisals.
In Minawao, refugees cultivate their surroundings, offer services like tailoring or open tiny shops to supplement handouts from relief workers and to sustain themselves. Internally displaced people have moved in with relatives throughout the north, increasing pressure on already fragile communities and scarce resources.
UN humanitarian officials have warned that insecurity, migrations and harsh climatic conditions have put the livelihoods and welfare of about two million people at risk, threatening to create an even bigger humanitarian crisis.
The UNHCR estimates it needs about USD 98.6 million to cover its humanitarian and operational needs in Cameroon. But funding has only trickled. The organisation had only received about USD 20.2 million or 21% of the total need by June, halfway through the year.
Diagne, the UNHCR representative, praised the move taken on Wednesday to cut medical costs for refugees, calling it “crucial”.
“The joint efforts of the ministry of public health, the UNHCR and other humanitarian actors, sustained by the generosity of donors, have made it possible to meet the health needs of refugees to this point,” Diagne said.
“Nevertheless,” he added, “many challenges remain.”