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Parents of conjoined twins in Cameroon plead for help

By Tapang Ivo Tanku, for CNN
updated 3:03 PM EDT, Fri October 21, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Conjoined baby girls were born October 10 in the village of Tugi, Cameroon
  • Parents want help to take their daughters abroad for separation surgery
  • Many villagers are fearful that "strange birth" is a bad omen
  • Road travel is difficult and would be perilous for the twins, hospital administrator says

Tugi, Cameroon (CNN) -- They are so new to this world that they do not have names yet.

Together, they weigh 9.7 pounds.

They are two baby girls born in a miraculous delivery in this impoverished Cameroon village. They both have arms and legs but they are joined at the chest and abdomen.

The parents desperately search for a way to separate their newborns. Even in sophisticated hospitals, the operation is risky. But here, in Cameroon, so many forces act against them.

Money and access to health care are two obvious obstacles.

But then, there is superstition. And plain old indifference.

Evaristus Samba, 29, the girls' father, wipes tears from his eyes as he pleads for aid from the international community.

"We are mere peasants and can't even afford to eat healthily daily."

Difficulties of separating conjoined babies

Doctors are battling with limited resources to keep the girls alive. Though they are artificially fed with tubes, they are healthy and active, nurses say.

An ultrasound indicated that Glory Njweng, 23, was having only one baby. The test was faulty, and neither she nor the doctors were prepared for her to deliver twins, much less conjoined ones.

"It is only the Lord Almighty who keeps me alive" to deliver the children for whom she now is washing clothes. "I feel terrified when thinking about October 10, when I put to bed these babies."

Tugi, in northwestern Cameroon, is home to about 2,000 people, mostly farmers and cattle ranchers who live below $1 a day. Here, traditional practices and beliefs hold sway.

News of the conjoined birth struck immediate fear. This was a bad omen for their village, some feared.

Sometimes, conjoined twins often are killed immediately after birth. Village leaders say they bring bad luck; some blame poor crops on "strange births."

Even some of the attending staff fled the small hospital room when Njweng's babies were born.

Such practices are fading, says Bah Elvis, a village healer from nearby Mbengwi. But long-held beliefs die hard.

Conjoined twins are rare in Cameroon, and rarer still is their separation.

The first known case involved the babies Pheinbom and Shevoboh, born in Babanki Tungo, who were separated in Saudi Arabia in 2007. They were joined at the chest, abdomen and pelvis, and had one leg each.

The Presbyterian hospital where the Tugi twins were born is one of the biggest in Cameroon, but it is ill-equipped for an operation of such complexity.

It has been without a consistent source of electricity since it opened in 1964. Doctors use kerosene lamps in delivery wards, nurse Rose Adeneng says, and kerosene often spills out during deliveries and surgeries.

Hospital officials also believe they have suffered from government neglect.

Hospital Administrator George Fonkem Tankem says travel by road in the region is not easy; many women prefer delivering at home than risk dying on their way to the hospital.

The 235-mile journey to the capital, Yaoundé, would be perilous for the twins, he says.

But Njweng and her husband are clinging to hope. The babies' birth was nothing short of miraculous, she says. God gave her life, she says. Now, she prays, her girls will get the same.

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