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Sudan: Hospital in Omdurman is threatened by escalating violence

MSF calls on warring parties to spare civilians and ensure the protection of hospitals and health care workers.

White flag of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against the sky

© Dalila Mahdawi/MSF

KHARTOUM, Sudan, August 17, 2023 — Violence is threatening Al Nao hospital, a vital medical facility supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Omdurman, a city to the northwest of Khartoum, as the devastating conflict in Sudan enters its fifth month. 

"As medics in Al Nao work round the clock, shells are landing nearby, causing yet more horror and threatening the hospital’s lifesaving work," said Frauke Ossig, MSF emergency coordinator in Sudan. "We call on warring parties to spare civilians from this unacceptable violence and ensure the protection of hospitals and health care workers. If hospitals cannot function, there will be even more misery and suffering.”  

Fighting in Omdurman has been particularly intense in recent weeks, with airstrikes, gun battles, and shelling. Violence is now escalating around Al Nao hospital, threatening patients and staff. Yesterday, shells landed to the north and southwest of the hospital.   

Dangers delay or deter many from seeking care 

Hundreds of people in the area, including children, are being injured and are in urgent need of health care, yet it is difficult and dangerous for many to reach the few functioning facilities in the area. On days when the nearby fighting is at its heaviest, Al Nao mostly receives people injured by the violence, although it remains available for patients with other medical emergencies. Other patients—such as those who have suffered strokes, heart attacks, or gastrointestinal emergencies—may delay seeking health care due to fear of being caught in the violence. Some patients reach the hospital too late. The insecurity also affects hospital staff, as medics have to work double shifts when it is too dangerous for their colleagues to travel.   

“Last week, a family came in who had been caught up in shelling," said Omer*, an MSF medic at Al Nao hospital. "The mother died, a young daughter died, another daughter lost a leg, and a son was severely injured. Another family brought in three of their children, who had been shot: a nine-year-old shot in the back, a six-year-old shot in the right eye, and a four-year old, who did not survive.” 

Maintaining care for patients with other medical conditions

From July 29 to August 11, MSF staff at Al Nao hospital worked alongside teams from the Sudanese Ministry of Health providing emergency trauma care to 808 patients, 447 of whom had suffered injuries caused by gunshots, shrapnel from explosions, or stabbings. In the same period, the hospital treated 787 patients for other medical conditions, including diabetes, respiratory infections, and hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Each day, the medical staff at Al Nao treated an average of 34 patients with violent trauma injuries, and 77 with other medical conditions.  

The hospital is seeing high numbers of patients because it is one of the last health facilities open in Omdurman. It’s also the only facility with a trauma emergency room or surgical capacity in north Omdurman, so all wounded patients in the city are brought there.  

On July 4, a Ministry of Health staff member at the MSF-supported Al Saudi Maternity Hospital in Omdurman died after being shot while moving within the hospital compound. The incident forced the hospital to close, and its staff relocated to Al Nao hospital so that pregnant women in the area still had a safe place to give birth. 

Sudan crisis response

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Heavy fighting in nearby neighborhoods impacts the population immensely. Two out of three war-wounded patients in Al Nao have gunshot wounds, including women, men, children, the elderly and even newborns. Others have stab wounds or injuries from explosions. Even in the midst of a conflict, patients with accidental injuries such as broken legs also need care.  

Even those without immediate health needs face the consequences of the violence. Continuous water and electricity cuts, shortages of fuel for cooking, and the lack of cash or other means for people to provide for themselves has impeded daily life. This desperate situation takes a heavy psychological toll on the people of Omdurman.  

Like anywhere MSF works, Al Nao hospital provides medical care to people based on their medical needs alone, regardless of their side of the conflict or whether or not they are civilians trapped in the middle of the fighting. MSF supports eight hospitals in Khartoum state on both sides of the front lines, with staff working in hospitals in the cities of Khartoum and Omdurman. In addition to Al Nao, MSF also provides care for wounded patients at Bashair Teaching Hospital and the Turkish Hospital in southern Khartoum. In July, 1,770 war-wounded patients received trauma care across all three hospitals.  

*Last name omitted to protect privacy 

Sudan crisis response