Sudan conflict driving health sector toward 'disaster': UN

AFP , Monday 1 May 2023

Sudan's already troubled health sector faces the risk of "disaster" after more than two weeks of heavy fighting have rocked the poverty-stricken country, a UN World Health Organization official warns.

An abandoned hospital in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, May 1, 2023 ,as deadly fighting continues in Sudan.(AFP)


Even before the deadly conflict broke out on April 15, "the healthcare system in Sudan faced numerous crises... and was extremely fragile," Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, told AFP.

Now -- with hospitals bombed, medicines running low and many doctors fleeing the country -- "it is a disaster in every sense of the word," he said, warning of the growing threat of cholera, malaria and other diseases.

More than 500 people have been killed and nearly 5,000 injured, according to official figures, but the real toll is feared to be much higher.

Only 16 percent of Khartoum's hospitals are now fully functional, Mandhari said, and there is a "real shortage in medical staff... especially specialised medical staff, for example in surgery and in anaesthesia".

The most vulnerable include about four million sick or pregnant women and 50,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition who will no longer receive vital care, Mandhari said.

"There are approximately three million women or girls who are exposed to various types of... gender-based violence", including sexual violence, he said, adding that children face "psychological pressures" from conflict and displacement.

Malaria is endemic in Sudan and could spread when the rainy season starts in the coming weeks, he said, also warning of the threat of a cholera outbreak as clean water becomes increasingly sparse.

Doctors' exodus 

The humanitarian tragedy will likely worsen in a country where 16 million people -- over a third of the population -- are already in need of aid to stave of famine.

Last year, the United Nations estimated that one in three Sudanese needed to walk more than an hour to get medical care, with less than 30 percent of vital medicines available.

The UN had until Monday suspended its work in Sudan after five aid workers were killed in the fighting.

The violence also forced the aid group Doctors Without Borders to stop almost all its activities in West Darfur -- a region still scarred by a war that erupted in 2003 and left at least 300,000 dead, according to UN figures.

Sudan's healthcare system is in need of "hundreds of millions of dollars" to address a situation that both predated and resulted from the current crisis, he said.

This year, the UN was hoping to raise around $1.7 billion to support Sudan, but "only about 13 percent" of that sum was secured, said the WHO official.

In war, "international law requires everyone to spare health facilities and to preserve the lives of medical staff and patients, especially women and children," Mandhari said.

Amid the continued fighting, he warned of doctors opting to flee the country alongside tens of thousands of other Sudanese seeking safer shores.

UK evacuation flights airlifted more than 2,000 citizens from Sudan, including about 20 doctors who wanted to leave the war-wracked country.

Mandhari lamented the departure of much-needed medical personnel from Sudan, saying the fighting is worsening a "real brain drain".

Short link: