The Collapse of Healthcare in Sudan: Hospitals Under Bombardment and Patients Under Threat

2023-04-24 08:23:50

Young Ibrahim Mohamed was surprised when he realized that the person who was receiving treatment next to him in a hospital in Khartoum had become a dead body, but the ferocity of the battles in the Sudanese capital prevented his body for days from being transported.

This was on April 15, the day the Sudanese woke up to the sounds of violent clashes between the army led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as “Hemedti”.

These battles, with which attempts to calm down did not succeed, turned Khartoum and other cities into open fields of war, impeded the provision of health care and the work of doctors, and put them under additional pressure in a country that suffered from conflicts and sanctions for decades.

In the capital, which is inhabited by nearly five million people, doctors and patients tell horrific stories about the situation of hospitals that have become incapable of achieving one of the most basic humanitarian and religious principles, which is reflected in the fact that “honoring the dead is buried.”

Between the smell of death and bullets

Muhammad, 25, was receiving treatment for leukemia at Khartoum Teaching Hospital, according to his father, Ibrahim, 62, who used to visit him frequently.

“Because of the fierce fighting, the (deceased) person was not moved to be buried,” the father told AFP, although his deadline expired on April 15.

Three days later, the father and son left the hospital, and the body was still there.

According to medical sources, this scene has become familiar in Sudan since the start of the fighting.

The Secretary-General of the Sudan Doctors Syndicate, Atiya Abdullah, says that in several hospitals, “the decomposing bodies remain in the wards.”

He warned that the battles had caused a “complete and comprehensive collapse of the health care system” in the country, and led to “morgues and streets being filled with corpses.”

The battles have led to the evacuation of 19 medical facilities so far

Before leaving the hospital, Ibrahim and his son had two options, the best of which was bitter.

The father explains, “The stench filled the room,” exacerbated by the three-day power outage and the hot weather. The choice was, “Either we stay in a musty-smelling room, or we go out and face bullets.”

Ibrahim Muhammad confirms that “the hospital was being bombed,” and the exchange of gunshots was taking place “immediately outside the hospital,” noting that some of the patients who left at that time were shot.

Hospitals under bombardment

Yesterday, Sunday, the World Health Organization reported that “eight dead and two wounded” among the medical staff were treated.

According to the Doctors Syndicate, 13 hospitals were bombed and 19 other medical facilities were evacuated during the eight days of fighting.

For the medical staff, allowing hospital inmates to leave rather than stay for treatment was a very difficult option, especially as the clashes continued.

Abdullah explains, “We found ourselves forced to allow the patients to leave… If they stayed, they would be killed.”

In addition to the risk of injury from battles, leaving the hospital exposes patients to other health risks.

Muhammad explains that he and his son had to walk outside the hospital, and it took them about five hours to get home.

He confirms that “my son’s health has deteriorated since then,” especially since he was unable to transfer him to another medical center to complete treatment.

He continued, “I just want all of this to stop so I can treat my son.”

The clashes killed more than 420 people and injured 3,700

Abdullah pointed out that about three quarters of hospitals have closed their doors, and medical facilities are satisfied with providing emergency services and treating the injured as a result of the battles.

Exhausted crews

The clashes killed more than 420 people and injured 3,700, and prompted tens of thousands to flee from the areas of clashes towards other states, or towards Chad and Egypt.

However, estimates suggest that the actual number of dead is much higher, with doctors and humanitarian workers unable to reach those in need.

Even the facilities that kept their doors open “are at risk of being closed at any moment” due to the situation, according to Abdullah, who confirms that they also suffer from an acute shortage of medical supplies, especially blood bags and adequate surgical equipment, as well as fuel to operate generators and even ambulances.

Elements of the Sudanese army in the capital, Khartoum

As for the staff, they are vulnerable to exhaustion because “the same (medical) team works in some hospitals” for eight consecutive days, according to Abdullah, who notes that “some have only one surgeon…”.

“Everyone is so exhausted,” he adds ruefully.

In the same context, paramedics used to make daily calls for a cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to arrive, to transport the wounded and bury the dead, but no real and stable truce was achieved after nearly ten days of fighting.

The intensity of the fighting forced many Sudanese to flee their areas of residence

While Sudanese are seeking through social media platforms to provide medicines for those suffering from chronic diseases, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that power outages and fuel shortages are putting a stock of vaccines and insulin doses, worth more than $40 million, at risk of damage.

The current situation prompted the Doctors Syndicate to provide advice to civilians on how to deal with decomposing bodies and methods of shrouding and burying them.

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