Dr.Ocan
War and conflict

I am glad I went to work in Sudan despite my family’s reluctance, a doctor's journey of compassion and resilience

By Dr. Francis Ocan, MSF Medical Doctor

Like everyone else, I followed keenly when news of the conflict in Sudan broke earlier this year. As a medical humanitarian worker with Médecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors without Borders (MSF), I knew that we would be involved, increasing our assistance as the conflict intensified.

Nothing prepared me for the call I received soon after that my services would be needed. Like everyone else, I was only following the events unfolding through the news and I never imagined I would be heading into Sudan. My family did not make things better when I disclosed my call to assignment. They were against the idea.

They hesitated to let me go, but my determination to help those in need prevailed. Little did I know that the assignment in Sudan would challenge me in ways I could never have imagined.

When I arrived, the situation was tense. It was clear that the country was grappling with the effects of the conflict. Initially, I was supposed to provide medical support in Madani and Khartoum, focusing on those forced from their homes. Plans changed upon my arrival, and I was redirected to White Nile state due to the greater need there, which far exceeded my expectations

Dr.Ocan

In White Nile state, the first healthcare facility I visited was in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. The sight was overwhelming. The facility, operating under challenging conditions, lacked basic amenities. Patients endured the scorching heat as they waited. Privacy was nonexistent. Yet, the determination and resilience of the people were evident as they lined up, hopeful. The quality of care we could offer in these early stages of our response was low, yet the lines of patients seeking medical attention were endless. Our presence was urgently needed - we had to try to make a difference.

The next day, we ventured into Sangour, another refugee camp, where the situation was equally dire. Patients lined up to receive care. Again, we did what we could with the limited supplies, but the demand far exceeded our capacity.

Every day, we treated countless patients, the majority suffering from severe acute malnutrition and measles. Our isolation wards were overcrowded, and some patients had to be turned away due to congestion. The number of children under ten presenting with suspected measles was overwhelming. We established a measles isolation ward, which quickly became overcrowded. We were admitting between 20 to 30 children daily, many with severe signs. Some patients had to share beds, and others were treated on the floor while those with less severe symptoms were on daily follow up treatment from home.

One day, several children were brought to the facility and despite our best efforts, we lost some of them. The sense of helplessness weighed heavily on our team. We were doing everything in our power, but the situation remained devastating. The team was distraught.

We soon learned that the situation in the community was equally dire. Many children were dying at home without making it to our facility. Frustration among the community grew as they faced long queues and the uncertainty of receiving medical attention. Mothers were arriving at the facility as early as 4:00 AM, hoping for care for their children.

MSF staff organizing a measles vaccination campaign with community leaders of the Um Sangour camp, White Nile state, Sudan
MSF staff organizing a measles vaccination campaign with community leaders of the Um Sangour camp, White Nile state, Sudan
Mazin  Al-Hadi

The situation was exacerbated by the increase of new arrivals, who had endured grueling journeys to reach safety. As Sudanese refugees arrived into White Nile State, the number of malnourished and critically ill children surged.

The magnitude of the crisis was unparalleled in my experience with MSF. I had never witnessed such widespread malnutrition, severe measles outbreaks, and a continuous increase of displaced people in need of urgent care. The situation demanded that we push ourselves beyond our limits to save lives.

The daily toll of suffering and death was painful. Our healthcare workers were stretched. Over time, we worked hard to expand our team, to train local staff, and to improve the quality of care. Our efforts also extended to raising awareness and conducting vaccination campaigns. We worked tirelessly to address the overwhelming needs, and the situation slowly began to improve. The number of suspected measles cases started to decline, and we could see progress in the community's health.

The mental and emotional toll on our team was significant, but we found solace in each other's support. We organised bonding activities every evening to cheer up each other. As a doctor, I believe that being where there is a dire need to save lives is both a professional and a moral duty. My experiences in Sudan have reinforced my resolve to continue with this work, wherever it may take me. I have no regrets about answering the call to work in Sudan.

As I prepare for my next assignment, I carry with me the lessons learned in Sudan—the resilience of the human spirit, the importance of working as a team, and the undeniable impact of compassionate care in the face of adversity. The journey continues, and I remain committed to serving those in need, wherever they may be.

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Refugees, Migration and displacement
Article 1 October 2023