While conflict in Cameroon rages, Arrey-Echi Agbor-Ndakaw posits that security means more than the absence of war.
“I recently had to wonder what exactly I would pack in an emergency bag if I had to leave my home because of insecurity. ”
The list of things which cause insecurity, especially to women and vulnerable people, is long. It is practically impossible to feel secure when bullets fly left, right and center like is the case now in the Anglophone regions of my country, Cameroon.
If you are a woman walking alone in the street, you can’t feel secure with shivers running down your spine as the fear of being raped drums into your mind. It is also impossible to feel secure if you are deprived of shelter. You can’t feel secure if your very being is threatened by the same person who promised to love and cherish you.
These are the types of security threats we typically talk about when we talk about security. We refer to physical security and emotional and financial wellbeing. Most definitions of security include an absence of war and access to shelter, food, and freedom.
But, when I think about what security means to me, I think of an aspect of security that many others fail to see—health care. Health care is often neglected or overlooked in these conversations.
As someone with a long history of health issues, maybe this recognition comes more naturally to me. The present situation in my country also makes me think about this crucial aspect of security. Not too long ago, I was with a friend at the hospital. She was in urgent need of care, and I was terrified that her life was in danger. I thought the doctors would see her case as an emergency and rush to assist her. Unfortunately, the doctors on call took their glorious time to attend to her. We tried several times to get them to attend to her but no one would help. I left that hospital feeling angry and frustrated. I couldn’t help thinking about the many people who die after attempts to reach hospitals to meet doctors who appear to be too busy to treat them as emergency cases.
We rush to hospitals in our most vulnerable moments, seeking help and succor, but we are left even more vulnerable when health care providers act like they didn’t see us. I have to ask myself, how safe are we, really? How many preventable deaths would have been avoided if such incidents didn’t happen? Are we secure if we go to hospitals and the doctors are not so quick to attend to us? These thoughts ran through my mind as I went home after watching my friend suffer without timely care. Later, I was sad to hear friends recount stories of similar experiences that had happened to them.
The violent crisis in my country has made it even more difficult for people to access the health care they need. What began as a peaceful protest in October, 2016 by lawyers and teachers protesting the marginalization of Anglophone people in Cameroon has taken a turn for the worse. There has been a huge loss of lives and property. Many people have been rendered homeless; they are either internally displaced or they have become refugees in other countries, like Nigeria.
Many of those losing their lives in the conflict are dying from lack of access to quality health care, not only from bullets and machetes. Every day it seems there are new stories of burned villages and health centers. I have seen horrible stories of patients too weak to run who were burned to ashes in the same place they went to seek help. It has been difficult to swallow these images of charred bodies and burned hospitals and it has even been more difficult to believe hospitals and health personnel would become targets during conflicts. It has been painful to see images of mothers wailing on the street, calling for a ceasefire.
We all want the crisis and the casualties to end, but many of the methods intended to curb the uprising only increase the insecurity and vulnerability of those directly concerned. For instance, a recent curfew got me thinking about people living with sickle cell disease—sickle cell warriors—in these troubled Anglophone regions.
As one who lives with sickle cell, I know our health is always unpredictable. A health crisis can start without warning in the middle of the night. Sometimes, rushing to the hospital immediately can mean the difference between life and death. But due to the curfew, it has become increasingly difficult to reach the hospital in such emergencies. In times of insecurity, how can we care for the psychological and emotional well being of those directly affected by the crisis? How do we ensure security for sickle cell warriors, people in need of dialysis, pregnant women, the weak, and the elderly?
I recently had to wonder what exactly I would pack in an emergency bag if I had to leave my home because of insecurity. Medications? Water? Pull-overs? The conflict in my country has made us uncertain about our future health and well being.
Security means taking health care needs into consideration in times of crisis—and at all times. There can never be security in the true sense of the word when a fraction of a populace has to worry about access to good care. Stigma and the cost of medications have kept many away from receiving help when sick. Those in need must have access to good care and quality treatment without fear of reprisal or high costs.
Security isn’t just the absence of war. It is when women no longer die during childbirth. It is when people who are critically ill, who cannot afford treatment, get a chance at good care. This is how I define security.
This story was published as part of the Future of Security Is Women digital event and is sponsored by our partner Our Secure Future. World Pulse runs Story Awards year round—share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.