Sudan: MSF demands respect for medical aid after violent incursion

South Sudan 2014 © Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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NEW YORK/KHARTOUM, MAY 15, 2020—Armed soldiers violently forced their way into a health facility supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Central Darfur state in Sudan on May 14, leaving one MSF staff member severely injured, said the international medical humanitarian organization today.

MSF has reduced activities in Rokero to lifesaving medical care only, while calling on all armed groups, including security forces, to respect health facilities and hospitals as humanitarian spaces. They must commit to ending intrusions that threaten the lives of healthcare workers, patients, and caretakers in their communities.

“These actions of the armed parties clearly demonstrate a blatant disregard for the neutrality of hospitals and medical spaces,” said Julia Paulsson, MSF’s head of mission in Sudan. “All parties have a responsibility to ensure that medical infrastructure and personnel are respected.”

Fighting between members of two different sections of the Sudanese security forces in Central Darfur state led to a number of armed soldiers from both sides violently entering the MSF-supported facility in the town of Rokero. In the course of the attack, gunshots were fired, and an MSF nurse was caught in the crossfire, as well as a soldier. Both were severely injured.

MSF has engaged with Sudanese authorities at all levels, including the Ministry of Health (MoH), the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), and other security authorities, to express outrage and to follow up on this situation. It is critical that everyone, including state and non-state armed groups as well as civilians, respect medical and humanitarian action in the country to protect people in vulnerable states and ensure care remains available for those who need it.

“We are saddened by the incident and demand that the government and entities involved guarantee the safety of staff and patients in order for our services to continue,” Paulsson said. “MSF remains committed to continuing to deliver lifesaving medical assistance to the people of Rokero and Central Darfur, but there needs to be assurances that these unacceptable situations won’t be repeated.”

Several other incidents have occurred in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan over recent weeks, including violent attacks on health workers and hospitals in the midst of fears stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.

MSF has been working in Sudan since 1978. Currently, our teams provide medical care in Khartoum, North Darfur, Central Darfur, East Darfur, White Nile, Al-Gedaref, and South Kordofan states. MSF runs hospitals and health centers and supports MoH facilities to provide primary and secondary healthcare to local communities, internally displaced people, and refugees. Activities range from treating malnourished children and assisting deliveries to providing care for chronic infectious diseases like TB and HIV and neglected conditions like kala azar. Following confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19 in Sudan in March, MSF is also supporting the MoH, private facilities, and designated COVID-19 health structures with logistics, technical assistance, infection control measures, and training of healthcare staff.