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Sudan: Violence forces MSF to evacuate team from Turkish Hospital in Khartoum

Hands-on support is no longer possible due to multiple attacks and repeated threats to staff.

The Turkish Hospital in Sudan

Sudan 2024 © MSF

NAIROBI, July 10, 2024—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has evacuated its team from a major medical facility in Khartoum, Turkish Hospital, following a series of violent incidents endangering staff. 

This decision was not made lightly. MSF provided continuous hands-on, lifesaving treatment in the hospital for nearly 14 months during the ongoing war in Sudan, despite many, often deliberate, obstructions by the warring parties. However, as a result of recent events, this hands-on support is no longer possible. 

This type of violence against our staff is unacceptable. Hospitals and health facilities should be protected and respected by the warring parties as sanctuaries for the sick and wounded where health workers can safely deliver medical care. They cannot have their lives put at risk as they try to save the lives of other people.

Claire Nicolet, head of MSF’s emergency response in Sudan

“The situation in the Turkish Hospital, located in an RSF-controlled area, has become untenable," said Claire Nicolet, head of MSF’s emergency response in Sudan, using an abbreviation for the Rapid Support Forces, which are one of the main warring parties in Sudan. "Multiple violent incidents have taken place inside and outside the premises over the past 12 months, and the lives of our staff have been repeatedly threatened. Most recently, on the nights of June 17 and 18, dozens of wounded combatants were brought to the Turkish Hospital, and our team was aggressively woken up as Kalashnikovs were fired into their bedrooms. This type of violence against our staff is unacceptable. Hospitals and health facilities should be protected and respected by the warring parties as sanctuaries for the sick and wounded where health workers can safely deliver medical care. They cannot have their lives put at risk as they try to save the lives of other people.”

Over the past year, MSF staff working at the Turkish Hospital have been frequently harassed both inside the facility and on the street going to and from work. Many have been threatened with arrest. In early June 2024, one MSF employee was arrested inside the hospital by two armed men, taken to an unknown location, and severely beaten.

MSF staff threatened and beaten in Khartoum, jeopardizing care

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“The team are physically and mentally exhausted," Nicolet said. "Due to the blockade that has been imposed by the Sudanese authorities since September—forbidding the transportation of medical supplies and humanitarian personnel into RSF-controlled areas—the team in the Turkish Hospital have been working without a break for the past 10 months. The blockade means it has not been possible for us to bring in a new team to replace them, and they have been working tirelessly to keep the hospital open under intense pressure.” 

The Turkish Hospital remains open thanks to the presence of the Ministry of Health staff. However, surgery will no longer be possible without the presence of MSF staff who have evacuated, and the future of the hospital is uncertain. Since the start of the war the Turkish Hospital has been a crucial part of the health system, serving patients not only from Khartoum, but also from as far away as Wad Madani in Al Jazirah state. MSF was similarly forced to suspend operations in Wad Madani in May 2024 due to repeated security incidents and obstructions to bringing in staff and supplies. 

The Turkish Hospital

When the war began in April 2023, the Turkish Hospital was a small maternity and pediatric hospital with no emergency room and a small operating theater that performed cesarean sections. The facility had no capacity to perform war surgery or to deal with mass influxes of casualties.

The Turkish Hospital was one of the few hospitals that was able to remain open when fighting escalated, and MSF supported the Ministry of Health to expand the functions of the hospital in mid-May 2023.

MSF increased the capabilities of the operating theater, opened an emergency room, trained staff in how to respond to mass casualty events and increased the number of health workers in the facility. By August 2023, MSF had also begun to support the maternity and pediatric departments, and the hospital remained the only facility providing specialist treatment to sick children and pregnant women in the city. 

From January 2024 to June 2024 the Turkish Hospital :  

  • Received over 10,600 patients in the emergency room, seeing an average of 55 to 60 patients daily; 
  • Treated over 11,360 adults and over 7,440 children as outpatients; 
  • Admitted 243 babies to the neonatal ward, 1,670 children to the pediatric ward, and 1,340 adults for inpatient treatment; and  
  • Delivered 1,338 babies (both through normal delivery and C-sections.) 

Before MSF established an emergency room and expanded the capacity of the operating theater in the Turkish hospital in mid-May 2023, it was a specialized women’s and children’s hospital. Almost 80 percent of all surgical procedures in the hospital over the past year were life-saving cesarean sections for women experiencing complications during pregnancy and childbirth. MSF also provided prenatal care, postnatal care, family planning, pediatric intensive care, and inpatient therapeutic feeding for children with severe acute malnutrition. The hospital had the only neonatal unit in Khartoum. MSF’s hands-on support to these activities has now been suspended. 

Bashair Teaching Hospital in Khartoum, also supported by MSF, has also faced multiple armed incursions over the past few months, and between October 2023 and January 2024, MSF was forced to suspend surgery in the hospital. MSF continues to work in this hospital in spite of these incidents. The security situation across the board has deteriorated significantly and in Khartoum especially.    

MSF urges the warring parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure—including hospitals and other health facilities. It is vital for medical supplies and humanitarian workers to be granted the necessary permits to move across front lines to continue to operate medical facilities that remain open. Due to the ongoing blockade imposed on humanitarian organizations by the Sudanese authorities, many facilities are struggling to remain open and the lives and health of millions of people in Khartoum and other parts of the country are at risk.

Sudan crisis response