Sudanese avoid hospital as coronavirus cases surge

Pandemic a major challenge in a country still dealing with recent political upheaval

In the Sudanese capital Khartoum, people with coronavirus symptoms are refusing to go to hospital, despite the city becoming a centre of infection.

In WhatsApp messages seen by The Irish Times, a pharmacist in Khartoum appealed for help, saying people with fevers or coughs come in asking for antibiotics or anti-flu medicine instead.

“People worry quarantine is a killing place . . . Tests are very limited.”

The pharmacist – who earns the equivalent of €150 a month – asked not to be named, citing concerns about losing his job.


He said pharmacies were now “the most dangerous place” and sent a photo of customers crowded inside the one where he works, none of them wearing masks.

Masks were expensive and uncomfortable, given the temperature reaches above 40 degrees Celsius nearly every day, he said. “It is the hottest time.”

Sudan has 2,289 confirmed coronavirus cases, a sharp rise from the 32 confirmed cases it had when a lockdown was announced in mid-April. This makes it one of the more affected of the 54 countries in Africa, where there are just over 81,000 cases in total.

Neighbouring Egypt has more than 11,700 confirmed cases and more than 600 deaths.

In April, health minister Akram Ali Altom told Reuters the Sudanese government had increased its healthcare budget by 200 per cent, but said it needed €120 million (€110 million) to tackle the virus and $150 million more to buy medications until June.

The pandemic has challenged a country still dealing with huge upheaval following last year's ousting of dictator Omar al-Bashir, which came after months of protests and nearly 30 years of him in power. Ahmed Haroun, the former head of Bashir's National Congress Party, recently tested positive for COVIDovid-19 in prison.

Arguments about the correct Covid-19 response has caused tensions to flare among the new transitional leadership. In April, prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, a former UN economist, said he had fired Khartoum's governor, Lieut Gen Ahmed Abdoun Hamad, for ignoring government orders to cancel Friday prayers.

In response, Hamad said he would stay in his position, leading to rumours of a planned coup.

Among Sudan's more than 40 million people are more than one million refugees from Eritrea, Yemen, South Sudan, and other countries. In some ways, refugees in Khartoum were already isolating before the pandemic, trying to avoid security forces well known for arresting and exploiting them to make money.

“Refugees already practised the lockdown for decades due to politics,” said an Ethiopian man, though he said they would still venture out to find work. Now, “we have no help,” he said. “Refugees have nothing to eat or pay house rent.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa