Sudan war overwhelming medical services, says MSF

Administrative issues mean back-up medics and supplies cannot be brought to where they are most needed, medical charity says

Diabetes patients taken to hospital in comas; war victims facing amputations; disease likely to spread – these are just some of the consequences of the war in Sudan, which will reach its six-month mark this weekend.

In a press conference on Thursday, staff from medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) told journalists how health facilities are overwhelmed and administrative issues mean backup medics and supplies cannot be brought to where they are most needed.

Conflict erupted in the North African country in April, after an uneasy alliance broke down between the Sudanese army, led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group, led by Mohamed Hamdan, who is known as Hemedti.

In that time, the United Nations says, 5.8 million of the country’s roughly 46 million people have been displaced, with more than 1.1 million fleeing the country. Chad now hosts more than 423,000; Egypt 310,000; South Sudan more than 31,000; Ethiopia more than 25,600; and the Central African Republic more than 15,700.


Inside Sudan, humanitarian needs are growing, but the response has been hampered by administrative problems and a lack of funding, preventing Sudanese aid workers, medics and supplies from moving between different parts of the country. Visa problems have prevented international staff from flying in, said Bakri Abubakr, MSF’s operations manager for Sudan.

Fighting remains heaviest in the capital, Khartoum, and in Darfur, in the southwest, but the area affected is growing, Abubakr said.

“We expect that the situation will get worse and worse ... the health system is not equipped to fight this. The surveillance system is disrupted as well as the capacity to treat patients.”

MSF’s deputy head of emergencies, Claire Nicolet, said more than half of healthcare facilities had been forced to close.

“They’re completely overwhelmed now, the facilities that are working,” she continued. “This is the reality. Emergency rooms are full.” She said many more people in need cannot reach health facilities in the first place. “Patients cannot access freely, especially in fighting areas, they are not able to move easily.”

States away from the fighting are grappling with a huge influx of displaced people. “Prices are crazy ... They don’t have proper access to water, to food.” Ms Nicolet said people with chronic illnesses are not being treated on time. “Less and less people have money to buy their drugs,” she said.

There is an outbreak of cholera in Gedaref State, in eastern Sudan, Ms Nicolet continued, and other outbreaks are possible. Gedaref is the location of camps for refugees from other countries, who began taking shelter in Sudan before the beginning of the war.

“The country is not able to cope with the situation ... Every single outbreak that will start, of course it will have a massive impact on the population,” said Ms Nicolet.

Sudanese medics and humanitarian workers are affected by the war themselves, and huge understaffing means “they are working around the clock, they are working like crazy, but after six months you can imagine how tired they are, how psychologically affected they are”. She said some healthcare staff in Khartoum have been effectively living in hospitals since the beginning of the war, “being on call 24/7”.

“The humanitarian response is very low compared to the needs,” she said. “The situation is definitely deteriorating.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

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