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Sudan: "In Khartoum, my colleagues are totally devastated"

MSF program manager Sylvain Perron bears witness to Sudan's dire crisis, health care collapse, malnutrition, and violence.

Green empty hallway with windows at Umdawanban hospital in Khartoum, Sudan

Sylvain Perron, program manager for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), gave the following account this week of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan after working with MSF's teams in Khartoum. His remarks were first published in Tribune de Genève and have been translated from French.

What did you find striking about the situation in Khartoum?

It is very difficult. There are colleagues in Sudan whom I've known for 20 years. Our local staff are no different from their compatriots—they've lost everything in this war. 

My colleagues and friends are totally devastated. Just four years ago, the revolution and fall of dictator Omar al-Bashir raised a huge wave of hope. Then the military coup of 2021 and the rivalries over power shattered their dreams of democracy and of a way out of the economic crisis. But they never expected this armed conflict. 

They could never have imagined that Khartoum, a capital city usually untouched by fighting, would one day be transformed into a warzone and a wasteland for looters and gangs. Those who could flee, fled. With no jobs to go to, people can't even afford a meal a day. 

One example among many: Our pharmacy manager, a Sudanese woman, has abandoned the capital and shares an apartment with five families living on her salary. And I'm not even talking about the poorest people. 

Sudan was already bankrupt and dependent on international aid. Now the country has plunged into a humanitarian catastrophe of such magnitude that it's hard to see how or when it will recover. My friends over there, when they talk about the past, they say, "When there was still Sudan... When there was still Khartoum..." 

What is the health situation like in Sudan? 

Two-thirds of the hospitals in Sudan are no longer functional. In the others, many doctors and nurses have left and those who remain have no salary, they lack medicines, fuel to run the electric generators, there's no water. 

In these conditions, dialysis patients are dying one after the other, many women are losing their lives giving birth at home without any recourse, and even malaria—[normally] so easy to treat orally—is becoming severe because of the shortages. Not to mention [the] malnutrition among children and epidemics that are now likely to multiply with the rainy season. Add to this the existence of massive sexual violence committed on a daily basis.

Sudan crisis response

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Are humanitarian aid workers safe to work? 

Honestly, for both the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces (editor's note: the two armed forces in conflict), it's impossible to have any guarantees. They don't control all the fighters. For the past 20 years, the official army has been delegating the war to militias. 

On the other side, the paramilitaries are also made up of different groups. That said, some commanders are trying to make it easier for us to get through the checkpoints, as every move is dangerous. A few days ago, my MSF colleagues in Khartoum were stopped and beaten on a road they use every day.

But efforts to make hospitals "sanctuaries" are bearing fruit. Because we insist on it, the weapons are being kept outside. These fighters have already heard of humanitarian law, and what's more, they know us. MSF has been present [in Sudan] for 20 years, and some of them were probably born in the clinics we supported back then. 

Learn more about how MSF is responding to the Sudan crisis >

Sudan crisis response