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Smoke rising in Khartoum, capital of Sudan. Heavy gunfire was heard on Saturday in Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Doctor on the front line in Sudan 'Even ambulances are being turned back'

MSF’s country representative in Sudan, Dr Ghazali Babiker outlines the major challenges he and his teams face in Sudan as fighting rages.

EVERYWHERE IN SUDAN, our teams with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams are facing serious challenges. The worst hit areas so far are Khartoum, Darfur, North Kordofan and Gedaref states. Our premises in Nyala, South Darfur, in the west of the country, have been looted – including one of our warehouses. 

In the capital Khartoum, most of our teams are trapped by the ongoing heavy fighting and are unable to access warehouses to deliver vital medical supplies to hospitals. In Khartoum, even ambulances are being turned back. They are not being permitted to pass in order to retrieve the bodies of the dead from the streets – or to transport those who have been injured to hospital.

Care in conflict 

In Khartoum and other cities where fighting is intense, we have received reports of overstretched and closed hospitals – running out of supplies, water, electricity and fuel for generators.

destroyed-military-vehicles-are-seen-in-southern-in-khartoum-sudan-thursday-april-20-2023-the-latest-attempt-at-a-cease-fire-between-the-rival-sudanese-forces-faltered-as-gunfire-rattled-the-capi Destroyed military vehicles are seen in southern in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, April 20, 2023. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The staff in those medical facilities have been working nonstop since the violence erupted and are completely exhausted. Many have been on duty for many hours, providing lifesaving care in extremely difficult circumstances despite the impact of the situation on them and their own families.

It’s also proving difficult for the medical staff who’ve been off duty to now reach the hospitals to provide lifesaving care due to intense fighting and insecurity. 

We are ready to provide supplies and medical personnel to key functional health facilities that need support, but it is too dangerous for anyone to move within Khartoum and other cities. 

For the sake of all vulnerable patients, we are urging all parties to the conflict to guarantee the safety of all our medical staff and their patients, so that they can access healthcare facilities without fearing for their lives. We are additionally requesting that all parties to the conflict ensure that all health facilities – including hospitals, clinics, warehouses and ambulances – are protected. They should never be a target.

hiv-clinic-in-south-sudan An employee of the international aid organisation 'Doctors Without Borders' (MSF) uses a megaphone to invite market visitors to get tested for HIV for free, in Nambiri, South Sudan as part of their work there. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

The majority of the wounded we’re seeing in Al Fasher are civilians who were caught in the crossfire – and among them are many children. They have extremely serious injuries and, until Saturday afternoon, there was no surgical capacity in this hospital. All other hospitals in North Darfur have had to close due to their proximity to the fighting, or due to the inability of staff to get to the facilities because of the violence. As a result, between Saturday and Wednesday of this week, we received 220 wounded patients. Very sadly, 34 have died from the severity of their injuries. Currently, although we now have some surgical capacity, there are only 38 beds in this hospital. There is not enough space for them and many are being treated on the floor in the wards and in the corridors.

International support 

As things stand, the hospital is rapidly running out of medical supplies to treat survivors. It is running out of blood for transfusions. Fuel supplies for the hospital generator are also running low.

It’s important to mention that, without those vital supplies, there will be further loss of lives.

We received a list of surgical items that the surgical team urgently requires and were able to get some of these to them – but it is not enough. With the number of wounded we are receiving, these supplies will soon run out. With trouble at the airport in Khartoum, it has been a huge challenge getting access to additional medical supplies and accessing other MSF surgical teams to support the surgeons who are currently at work.

ambassador-linda-thomas-greenfield-of-the-usa-speaks-to-press-on-situation-in-sudan April 17, 2023, New York, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the USA speaks to press on situation in Sudan demanding immediate ceasefire and start negotiations at UN Headquarters. Lev Radin Lev Radin

Following the military coup in 2021, most international support to Sudan was frozen and the ensuing economic crisis has caused the cost of living to increase for the population, resulting in increased food insecurity.

The hospitals were already struggling to function due to a lack of medical supplies and the brain drain of medical personnel.

Sudan’s health system has been on the verge of collapse for decades; the economic crisis and political crisis pushed it to breaking point and this latest development is going to further exacerbate the deteriorating humanitarian needs in the country, which were already at their highest in a decade.

Dr Ghazali Babiker is the country representative for Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Sudan.

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