KHARTOUM/NEW YORK, October 12, 2023—Six months since war erupted between rival armed forces in Sudan, a shamefully inadequate response to medical needs is worsening an already catastrophic situation, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today, calling for humanitarian organizations to increase their response and for the warring parties to allow unhindered access.
The World Health Organization has said that 70 percent of Sudan's medical facilities are no longer functioning, and MSF staff report that emergency rooms are now severely overburdened in multiple locations. In Khartoum alone, MSF teams witness the intensity of the conflict on a daily basis, as many people present with life-threatening wounds, often leaving no choice but to amputate.
"Sudan’s crisis epitomizes a catastrophic failure of humanity, marked by the warring parties’ failure to protect civilians or facilitate essential humanitarian access, and by the dire neglect and shortcomings of international organizations in delivering an adequate response," Dr. Christos Christou, MSF international president, said today. "Without an immediate, substantial escalation of the humanitarian response, what we are witnessing now will be the beginning of an even larger tragedy yet to unfold—meaning more people will continue to needlessly die."
MSF's own humanitarian response is being hindered by considerable bureaucratic and administrative hurdles imposed by Sudanese authorities. These include restrictions on movements of staff, travel permit rejections, delays in releasing medical supplies and bans on specific supplies, such as supplies for surgery. In southern Khartoum one of the hospitals supported by MSF has less than one week's worth of essential supplies to provide emergency trauma care to injured patients. Once these supplies run out, MSF teams will no longer be able to provide this care.
"Any supplies that do reach health care facilities are quickly exhausted, leading to dire health consequences and even fatalities," Claire Nicolet, MSF deputy head of emergencies, said today. "We desperately need surgical and medical equipment not just for trauma care, but also for obstetric surgeries, as we see many pregnant women in life-threatening conditions."
MSF staff now believe that fatalities from neglected medical needs are as high as those from violent injuries. In Wad Madani, the capital of Al Jazirah state, the population has roughly quadrupled as people fled Khartoum and other areas, creating a humanitarian crisis.
"There is a lack of clean water and a lack of electricity," Abubakr Bashir Bakri, MSF program manager for Sudan, said today. "People are under the sun directly. There are no shelters. So outbreaks spread in these kind of situations and many people say that an outbreak like cholera is a side effect of war."
The Sudanese health system is now in urgent need of support to avoid further losses of life as the war continues.
"One of the characteristics of the Sudanese health system is that it's very heavily centralized in big cities and specifically Khartoum," Bakri said. "When the war started, that caused a big decrease in the capacity of the health system. Over time, we've seen even further decreases with more hospitals going out of service, and more health staff and medical stuff fleeing Khartoum and going out to other places."
Local Sudanese health workers who were the first to respond to this crisis have become exhausted after six months of war and urgently need additional support, Bakri said.
"We cannot get enough visas for our international staff who are experienced in these kinds of situations," Bakri said. "Also, there is no freedom of movement between cities and inside Khartoum. The same thing applies for supplies as well, especially surgical supplies and supplies for responding to outbreaks such as cholera, measles and malaria."