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How a diaspora association is improving health care delivery back home

Most members of diaspora associations work for free. But all of these volunteers share the same goal, namely that of promoting sustainable development in their home country. In this way, diaspora organisations are helping to achieve the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda. Camfomedics e. V. –  an association of medial professionals from the Cameroonian diaspora in Germany –  is no exception here.

Around 17 million people with a migration background live in Germany. That means that they or their parents or grandparents originated from another country. Some 25,000 of them are Cameroon nationals or have a Cameroonian migration background. Tertiary level education is the main driver of migration from Cameroon to Germany.  

As a result, the diaspora in Germany essentially consists of academics who have trained in Germany and who, according to a GIZ study conducted in 2016, are very keen to assist their home country via Cameroonian diaspora organisations.

The health care sector is a prime example of activities by the Cameroonian diaspora in Germany – also because medicine, alongside mathematics, engineering and the life sciences, is a highly popular course of study amongst Cameroonians in Germany. The Essen-based diaspora association Camfomedics e. V. is committed to promoting a sustainable health care concept in Cameroon.

Dr Ivo Azeh has been part of the association from the very beginning in 1994 and has managed Camfomedics as a board member and chairman ever since. A native of Cameroon, Dr Azeh spent his childhood there before moving to Göttingen to study medicine, later qualifying as an internal medicine and oncologist specialist in Bochum and Essen. Since 2007, he has been self-employed as partner and managing director of a joint oncology practice in Gelsenkirchen and of a study and service centre with a staff of nine employees.

The Cameroonian accident and hand surgeon, Dr Yves Obiombok, is another founding member of Camfomedics. He also studied medicine and completed his specialist medical training in Germany. In contrast to Dr Ivo Azeh, he returned to Cameroon in 2009 where he now works on site on behalf of “Bread for the World” and Camfomedics. Dr Obiombok also speaks fluent German.

Ties to Germany play vital role in work for Cameroon

The two doctors experience their engagement for the diaspora association and for Cameroon from different geographic perspectives. “Since returning to Cameroon, I can literally support Camfomedics’ various projects more closely and coordinate some of them,” says Dr Yves Obiombok.

His ties to Germany play a vital role in his work for Camfomedics. “Many of the German hospitals I worked at provide materials and second medical professionals to our projects. This means our patients in Cameroon get to benefit from high quality products from Germany.  Because I speak German, there are no language barriers. The time I spent in Germany also has a great impact in terms of project funding.”

Dr Ivo Azeh is also of the opinion that his being in Germany is extremely important for Camfomedics’ work. “Thanks to my training and my work in Germany, I have established myself in the European world. I am treated as an equal here. People listen to what I have to say in a different way to what they would if I didn’t have this background.” Through this position, he is able to communicate totally different perspectives and thus better represent the interests of his home country Cameroon.

Global partnerships: Knowledge transfer via exchanges between Cameroon and Germany

The biggest problem affecting the health care system in Cameroon is the lack of professionals – which is why experts from Germany and Cameroon organise targeted further training events on specific topics. To date, Camfomedics has successfully completed eight events with partners in Cameroon as part of the i.MED project.

For example, it has already conducted two wound management workshops (2014 and 2015), to which it invited a nurse from Germany who specialises in the treatment of wounds.  On both occasions, Cameroonian doctors were able to spend a week honing their skills, both in theory and in practice – including the direct application of their newly acquired skills on actual patients. Scheduled projects include a workshop on the treatment of knee arthritis in October 2017 and another wound management workshop in November 2017.

Through its projects, Camfomedics is helping to:

  • improve the practical training of medical students in Cameroon
  • deliver new advanced and specialist training for medical professionals
  • enable the application of medical diagnostic and therapeutic innovations in Cameroon – thereby raising the quality of treatment on site
  • harness the potential of the Cameroonian diaspora in Germany to promote development in Cameroon (some 700 doctors with a Cameroonian background are now working in Germany)

Moreover, the projects are no long limited to the larger cities of Yaoundé and Douala, but are benefiting patients in more remote regions, too.

Camfomedics also relies on global partnerships and exchanges with other disciplines. Consequently, the diaspora association is helping to achieve the following 2030 Agenda's Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Camfomedics e. V. – Training
  • Camfomedics e. V. – Workshop
  • Camfomedics e. V. – Wound Management
  • Camfomedics e. V. – Wound Management

Work by diaspora association faces many challenges

Camfomedics is making a major contribution to Cameroon’s sustainable development. “I believe our association’s work also generates a great many advantages for Cameroonians living in Germany,” says Dr Yves Obiombok. “For example, they stay in touch with their home country. They have a chance to engage in exchanges with colleagues working in Cameroon, to lecture at a university in Cameroon or to work in a hospital there.”

Dr Obiombok adds that, “What’s more, by engaging in the association, our colleagues in Germany also learn how to work under totally different conditions to those in Germany. And, not least, they are helping to improve the health care system in Cameroon!”

In spite of these many advantages, Camfomedics still finds it difficult to recruit new members. “Our members work in an honorary capacity,” explains Dr Ivo Azeh. “They don’t get any money for their work for Camfomedics and have to pay for most things , like travel expenses for example, themselves. That’s why we are having difficulty finding new members.” Furthermore, the association is funded by member donations. “As a result, we have few professional resources and are faced with a number of structural challenges.”

At the same time, he is critical of the way Camfomedics is seen by other organisations and institutions. “At the moment, the recognition we get from other organisations engaged in development assistance is still low. Also at government level – both in Germany and Cameroon – the authorities, institutions and organisations frequently fail to acknowledge us as experts for our country or to consult us on specific topics.”

Diaspora – building bridges between two worlds

Dr Azeh sees his work for Camfomedics in a broader context. “Moreover, I believe it is a key task of the Cameroonian diaspora in Germany to promote knowledge of Africa and Cameroon and to enrich the frequently Eurocentrically-driven perspective by adding new ones.”

Author: Verena Striebinger

Diaspora-driven development – join the discussion!

Diaspora associations are committed to building a better future in their home countries while also shaping societal integration in Germany or the respective host country. How important do you think it is to promote your country of origin from your new home? What do you consider to be the advantages and opportunities? Discuss this with us and other alumni in the Community group “People on the Move – Migration for Development”.

Community discussion

In focus: Cameroon and Camfomedics

Around 23 million people live in Cameroon. The population consists of 250 different ethnic groups and 24 language groups. In terms of religious affiliation, around 40 per cent of the population practice an indigenous religion, another 40 per cent are Christians and approximately 20 per cent Muslims.

Cameroonian students represent the ninth largest group of foreign students at German universities. They are the largest group from sub-Saharan Africa and the second largest group of students from the African continent behind Morocco. Just under 6,000 Cameroonian students registered for the winter semester 2012/13 in Germany.

Thanks to successful lobbying by the diaspora association Camfomedics e. V., the Cameroonian Baccalaureate has now been recognised in Germany since the mid-1990s. To enable medical students to undertake an internship in Cameroon that is officially recognised by the German authorities, the association successfully campaigned for a directory of teaching hospitals in Cameroon.  

Furthermore, the association has worked successfully with the Cameroonian General Medical Council to establish a representation of this body in Germany which is headed by an elected member able to verify the professional qualifications of the doctors Camfomedics assigns to projects in Cameroon.

Source: GIZ Study “Cameroonian Diaspora Organisations in Germany and Their Development Activities”

September 2017

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