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Access to Healthcare

Sudan: Population of Khartoum State deprived of lifesaving services, warns MSF

Thursday 18 January - Over the past few months, the population of Khartoum State in Sudan has become increasingly cut-off from healthcare. Very few medical facilities remain functional, depriving three million inhabitants of lifesaving medical services. For the first time in more than 90 days, a limited number of travel permits have been granted for humanitarian staff to access RSF-controlled areas. Prior to this, no travel permits had been granted for travel to Khartoum since October 1. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is calling for the Sudanese authorities to ensure these restrictions are not reinstated, in order to avert further loss of life.

“Despite the past exodus from Khartoum due to ongoing fighting, there are still a huge number of people who either could not afford to flee, or were unable to do so due to vulnerabilities or insecurity, now struggling to access critical treatment,” Jean-Guy Vataux, MSF Head of Mission in Sudan, explains.

In Khartoum, only a handful of hospitals are currently operational, and the price of essential medicines continues to soar. MSF teams in the Turkish Hospital receive over 100 patients a day, mostly children and pregnant women. Many arrive in a critical state at advanced stages of illness having taken the calculated risk of travelling to the hospital, sometimes for miles on foot and across frontlines, since there is no ambulance service and there are very few transport options available.

"A four-year-old girl was brought to our emergency room after being hit in the abdomen by a stray bullet that entered her home,” says Vataux. “Her mother took her to three other hospitals before she was finally able to get surgical treatment at the Turkish Hospital. We had another tragic case where four children were playing with an unexploded rocket. They had no idea it was a dangerous object until it exploded in their hands. They were rushed to hospital, and two of them required urgent abdominal surgery.”

At Umdawanban hospital, oxytocin is also missing, and it is essential for many women during labour. One of the staff there describes traumatic scenes within the paediatric unit as children with chronic diseases such as diabetes cannot find insulin and are often hours away from death when they finally reach the hospital. "Before MSF set up our services here, children in Umdawanban had no access to paediatric care and therefore no chance of survival. We see fewer child fatalities today but now our medical team are reduced to the bare minimum within the hospital. Mothers and children remain at-risk, especially when they suffer from chronic conditions such as hypertension, thyroid problems or epilepsy, which require medicines that are hard to find for both MSF and Ministry of Health colleagues."

At Bashair Teaching Hospital, southern Khartoum, MSF Medical Coordinator Slaymen Ammar explains: “The team here have managed over 6,100 consultations in the emergency department in the last six months. As one of the few functioning hospitals available to the community of Khartoum State it is a lifeline for many, but we're starting to miss the essentials. For example, stocks of medical gloves and antiseptic for cleaning wounds are so low that providing even very basic medical care is becoming a challenge.

“I recall a one-year-old child who was injured and lost his father from a bomb blast. He was in a critical condition but surprised us all when he recovered after two months of care in the trauma ward. When the boy was discharged, his mother – now a widow – had nowhere to go and spent three days trying to find transportation out of Khartoum to join her relatives in Darfur."

Several MSF teams face severe challenges to keep services open, in large part due to administrative restrictions on staff travel permits.

“As our teams continue to deal with horrific influxes of casualties, restrictions on the movement of essential medical and other humanitarian staff into Khartoum for many months prevented people from being able to receive lifesaving treatment for wounds, and treatment for entirely preventable diseases,” says Vataux. “The demand on health services in Khartoum has only increased since the violence that engulfed Jazirah State in mid-December. It led to many health facilities in Wad Madani, the state capital, becoming non-functional, and also to many people returning to Khartoum. Although MSF has just been granted permission to return to Wad Madani, which is positive news, this was the first time for over 90 days and we urge the Sudanese authorities to facilitate our access to Jazirah and Khartoum states on a regular basis so that we can meet the ever-increasing needs of the population.”

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MSF has worked in Sudan since 1979. We currently work in nine states in Sudan, including Khartoum city and state, White Nile, Blue Nile, River Nile, Al Gedaref, West Darfur, North Darfur, Central Darfur and South Darfur state.

MSF teams in Sudan are treating people injured in the fighting, including blast injuries and gunshot wounds, treating communicable and non-communicable diseases, providing maternal and paediatric care, running mobile clinics in IDP gathering locations and hospitals in refugee camps, providing water and sanitation support, and supporting healthcare facilities through donations, incentives to Ministry of Health staff, and training and logistical support. MSF is also continuing the majority of the activities that were in place before the start of the conflict.

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