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Sudan: End the ban on lifesaving surgical supplies

The ban is unconscionable, it violates the laws of war, and it must be immediately reversed.

MSF doctors perform surgery in the operating theater at Bashair Teaching Hospital in Khartoum, Sudan.

Sudan 2023 © MSF

NEW YORK/KHARTOUM, November 14, 2023—The Sudanese authorities are blocking lifesaving surgical supplies from reaching hospitals serving people in areas of Khartoum that are under the control of the opposition group Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which is likely to cause the deaths of hundreds of patients, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. 

The ban on surgical supplies is unconscionable, it violates the laws of war, and it must be immediately reversed, MSF said. 

As fighting continues between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and RSF, the policy is intended to prevent wounded opposition soldiers from receiving treatment, and it also prevents women and children from receiving lifesaving surgeries, including Cesarean sections. It has been in place since early September and was formally communicated to MSF by Sudanese authorities on October 2. 

MSF surgical teams suspended operations at Bashair Teaching Hospital in mid-October as a result of the ban, and may soon have to suspend operations at the Turkish Hospital. Both are located in southern Khartoum city. 

"The ban is a ruthless tactic that will likely cause the preventable deaths of hundreds of people in Khartoum over the coming weeks," said Claire Nicolet, MSF’s head of emergencies for Sudan. "Two-thirds of the surgeries we carry out in the Turkish Hospital are Cesarean sections. In the past two months alone, we have performed 170 such surgeries—without this procedure, many of the women and their newborn babies would have died. Women in labor needing C-sections already have very few options available to them in Khartoum. If we continue to be denied permission to bring surgical supplies to our hospital, soon they will have no options at all."

A violation of international law

The ban clearly contravenes the international laws of war—to which SAF and RSF reconfirmed their commitment in the Jeddah declaration in May. In addition, it would be against medical ethics to refuse lifesaving treatment for someone with war wounds—no matter whether they have been fighting or caught in the crossfire. MSF treats people based on their medical needs alone, without discrimination. 

Adding to the severity of the situation, the ban affects not only supplies but also personnel. Humanitarian workers—including medical staff—are also being denied travel permits. Although there has been no official announcement to MSF from the authorities on this issue, the facts are that not a single member of MSF's medical staff—Sudanese or foreign—has received authorization to travel to southern Khartoum for work since early October. 

Despite a stated commitment in Jeddah by the Sudanese Armed Forces to allow 90 trucks of relief supplies to travel to Khartoum, to date no convoys have reached their destinations. Travel permits for MSF trucks remain blocked. 

Although many departments of the Sudanese government, international organizations, and diplomatic missions involved in the Sudanese crisis have been informed of the ban, they are yet to do anything about it.

Claire Nicolet, MSF head of emergencies for Sudan

“There are MSF supplies and staff ready and waiting in Wad Madani, less than 200 kilometers [about 124 miles] from Khartoum,” Nicolet said. “The Sudanese Armed Forces are actively blocking the delivery of medical care for the population of Sudan's capital. Although many departments of the Sudanese government, international organizations, and diplomatic missions involved in the Sudanese crisis have been informed of the ban, they are yet to do anything about it. This is a heartless decision to leave women in labor to suffer—and for some, to die—as a side effect of the inhumane policy to make wounded combatants bleed to death. It is gruesome and must be reversed.” 

Following two mass casualty incidents on November 12 and 13, MSF received 128 wounded people in the emergency room of the Turkish Hospital. Several surgeries have already been performed, and many patients are still waiting to go into the operating theater. As a result, there are now not enough supplies left in the hospital to last for even a month. 

If MSF is not able to bring in more supplies, the operating theater in the Turkish Hospital will have to close its doors and there is no doubt that the death toll of this war will rise further, as women, children, and men in need of lifesaving surgery will be unable to receive treatment.

MSF's work in Sudan

MSF has worked in Sudan since 1979. We currently work in 10 states in Sudan, including Khartoum city and state, Al-Jazeera, White Nile, Blue Nile, River Nile, Al Gedaref, West Darfur, North Darfur, Central Darfur, and South Darfur states. 

MSF teams in Sudan are treating people injured in the fighting, including blast injuries and gunshot wounds; treating people for communicable and non-communicable diseases; providing maternal and pediatric care; running mobile clinics in sites where people are displaced and in hospitals inside refugee camps; providing water and sanitation support; and supporting health care facilities through donations, training, and logistical support. MSF is also continuing the majority of its activities that were in place before the start of the conflict. 

MSF Sudan's emergency response operates with a budget of € 76 million [about $82.5 million USD] for 2023, with a team of 1,145 Sudanese staff and 57 international staff based in Sudan. MSF is also providing financial support to 1,358 Ministry of Health staff.

Sudan crisis response