Access to diagnostic tests and essential medicines for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes care: cost, availability and affordability in the west region of Cameroon

Objective: To assess the availability and affordability of medicines and routine tests for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes in the West region of Cameroon, a low-income setting. METHODS: A survey was conducted on the availability and cost of twelve routine tests and twenty medicines for CVD and diabetes in eight health districts (four urban and four rural) covering over 60% of the population of the region (1.8 million). We analyzed the percentage of tests and medicines available, the median price against the international reference price (median price ratio) for the medicines, and affordability in terms of the number of days' wages it would cost the lowest-paid unskilled government worker for initial investigation tests and procurement for one month of treatment. RESULTS: The availability of tests varied between 10% for the ECG to 100% for the fasting blood sugar. The average cost for the initial investigation using the minimum tests cost 29.76 days' wages. The availability of medicines varied from 36.4% to 59.1% in urban and from 9.1% to 50% in rural settings. Only metformin and benzathine-benzylpenicilline had a median price ratio of ≤1.5, with statins being largely unaffordable (at least 30.51 days' wages). One month of combination treatment for coronary heart disease costs at least 40.87 days' wages. CONCLUSION: The investigation and management of patients with medium-to-high cardiovascular risk remains largely unavailable and unaffordable in this setting. An effective non-communicable disease program should lay emphasis on primary prevention, and improve affordable access to essential medicines in public outlets.