BACKGROUND: In 2017, Field access was considerably limited in the Far North region of Cameroon due to the conflict. Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in collaboration with Ministry of health needed to estimate the health situation of the populations living in two of the most affected departments of the region: Logone-et-Chari and Mayo-Sava.
METHODS: Access to health care and mortality rates were estimated through cell phone interviews, in 30 villages (clusters) in each department. Local Community Health Workers (CHWs) previously collected all household phone numbers in the selected villages and nineteen were randomly selected from each of them. In order to compare telephone interviews to face-to-face interviews for estimating health care access, and mortality rates, both methods were conducted in parallel in the town of Mora in the mayo Sava department. Access to food was assessed through push messages sent by the three main mobile network operators in Cameroon. Additionally, all identified legal health care facilities in the area were interviewed by phone to estimate attendance and services offered before the conflict and at the date of the survey.
RESULTS: Of a total of 3423 households called 43% were reached. Over 600,000 push messages sent and only 2255 were returned. We called 43 health facilities and reached 34 of them. In The town of Mora, telephone interviews showed a Crude Mortality Rate (CMR) at 0.30 (CI 95%: 0.16-0.43) death per 10,000-person per day and home visits showed a CMR at 0.16 (0.05-0.27), most other indicators showed comparable results except household composition (more Internally Displaced Persons by telephone). Phone interviews showed a CMR at 0.63 (0.29-0.97) death per 10,000-person per day in Logone-et-Chari, and 0.30 (0.07-0.50) per 10,000-person per day in Mayo-Sava. Among 86 deaths, 13 were attributed to violence (15%), with terrorist attacks being explicitly mentioned for seven deaths. Among 29 health centres, 5 reported being attacked and vandalized; 3 remained temporally closed; Only 4 reported not being affected.
CONCLUSION: Telephone interviews are feasible in areas with limited access, although special attention should be paid to the initial collection of phone numbers. The use of text messages to collect data was not satisfactory is not recommended for this purpose. Mortality in Logone-et-Chari and Mayo-Sava was under critical humanitarian thresholds although a considerable number of deaths were directly related to the conflict.