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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Cross-sectional study of morbidity, morbidity-associated factors and cost of treatment in Ngaoundere, Cameroon, with implications for health policy in developing countries and development assistance policy

Knut Holtedahl1* and Harald Hurum2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway

2 Protestant Hospital, Ngaoundere, Cameroon

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BMC International Health and Human Rights 2002, 2:2  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-2-2

Published: 15 April 2002



In a population-based epidemiological study in Ngaoundere, Cameroon, we studied cross-sectional child morbidity and the cost of necessary investigation and treatment.


Three teams of two to three health workers visited haphazardly selected households in all major housing quarters. We asked permission to enter for a health survey. Children with cough, fever or weight loss as well as sick adults were offered free-of-charge local hospital examination and treatment.


From 177 households with 1777 persons, 51 (2.9%) persons were referred. Thirty-five of them had an undiagnosed disease threatening individual health and in many cases also public health. Seven were hospitalised, including three adults with tuberculosis. Malnutrition was diagnosed in nine small children. Four patients had AIDS, seven had malaria. Average total cost for ambulant patients was 15 USD, for hospitalised patients 110 USD.

In the households, almost half of the women 16–50 years of age had no schooling. Two per cent of women and nine per cent of men were daily smokers. Coughing children were more likely than non-coughing children to live in a household with at least one smoker (OR = 3.58, 95% CI 1.72 to 7.46), and they generally lived in more poor households (P = 0.018). Twelve of 16 children with weight loss were referred from households with a high poverty score.


Adult smoking and poverty affect children's health. The cost of hospitalisation or long-lasting therapy is beyond the means of most ordinary families. Diseases with severe consequences for public health, like tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria should have national programs with free, decentralised examination and treatment. Access to generic drugs is important. A major educational effort is needed to improve public health.