Darfur fighting disrupts medical care and nutrition programs

In Sudan, the residents of Zamzam camp went weeks without any access to health care until MSF was able to reopen its clinic.

Zamzam camp in North Darfur. Sudan, 2023 © MSF

NEW YORK/NAIROBI, May 12, 2023—After weeks of heavy fighting, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has reopened its health clinic in Zamzam camp, North Darfur, which hosts approximately 120,000 people who were displaced by earlier conflicts in Sudan. 

Due to recent intense fighting in the regional capital El Fasher and insecurity in the surrounding area, it was not possible for MSF's team to return to the camp until May 7. The camp's residents had gone several weeks without any access to health care. 

Since then, MSF teams have treated about 160 patients per day, some of whom have required urgent medical attention. A major concern is that there are no longer any food or nutrition programs running in the camp, because most international organizations have left. As a result, many people have had to reduce the number of meals they eat per day from three to one. Because many children suffered from malnutrition before the conflict started, their condition is likely to deteriorate further. 

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A scene of the city of Khartoum and a billowing fire in the background.

An MSF team continues to work at South Hospital in El Fasher, which serves the wider region, and has treated more than 400 wounded people since April 15. The hospital was originally a maternity hospital and did not have any surgical capacity. It therefore needed to adapt to treat the influx of wounded. 

All 108 hospital beds are occupied and additional patients must be treated on the floor. In addition to the wounded, patients include pregnant women and people with other medical needs. 

West Darfur 

In El Geneina, West Darfur, insecurity forced the closure of El Geneina Teaching Hospital in West Darfur in April. MSF has supported the hospital's pediatric department since 2021. MSF's staff evacuated the area in late April following an eruption of conflict there on April 24. 

Fleur Pialoux, the coordinator of MSF's team in El Geneina at the time, provided the following account today: 

"On 24 April the conflict hit El Geneina. Armed groups started targeting key locations inside the city. In the following days, fighting broke out in most neighborhoods. Looting of the market, hospital, pharmacies and cars became the daily norm. Rumors and hate speech hit social media.  

"From our windows we saw the smoke as sites that had been hosting more than 100,000 displaced people were burnt to the ground. Across the city, people were left without power and water for days. Mobile networks were down. Banks were closed and unable to process payments, leaving many people with no access to money for essentials like food, fuel or medicine. Hundreds of people were wounded or killed, but virtually no health facilities were able to function.  

"We spent several nights on the floor, privileged to have access to a bunker, while the city faced crossfire and mortars. I spent those last weeks of assignment working 15 hours a day, crosschecking information, giving updates, assessing risks and preparing for an eventual evacuation into neighboring Chad. ... 

"MSF remains committed to providing health care in West Darfur. A specialized emergency team and medical cargo have already been organized to start meeting some of the immense medical needs in the region. 

"The coming peaks in malaria and malnutrition will not wait for the conflict to be over. The deadly measles outbreak will not abate on its own. Mothers and children remain the most vulnerable." 

Elsewhere in West Darfur, MSF's teams have not been able to conduct mobile clinics in the nomadic communities of Galala, Mogshasha, Wadi Rati, and Gelchek in recent weeks. MSF has continued providing services in Kreinik hospital, although there has been a reduction in the number of patients coming from outside this town.