Sudan: Only 20 to 30% of Health Facilities Remain Functional in Sudan

A child has the circumference of her arm measured, as part of screening for malnutrition, in Zamzam camp. North Darfur state, Sudan, February 2024. 

After one year of the war, the aid provided to millions of people is a drop in the ocean due to political blockages created by the warring parties and a lack of action from the United Nations and international humanitarian organisations.

In one of the world's worst crises for decades, Sudan is facing a colossal, man-made catastrophe, one year after the start of the war between the government-led Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). It is a matter of life or death for millions of people to urgently enable safe humanitarian access. As governments, officials, aid organisations, and donors meet on 15 April in Paris  to discuss ways to improve the delivery of humanitarian aid, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is making an urgent call for them to immediately scale up the humanitarian response.

Millions of people are at risk, yet the world is turning a blind eye as the warring parties intentionally block humanitarian access and the delivery of aid. The United Nations (UN) and member states must redouble their efforts towards negotiating safe and unhindered access, and to scale up the humanitarian response to prevent this already desperate situation from deteriorating any further.

“People in Sudan are suffering immensely as heavy fighting persists —including bombardments, shelling and ground operations in residential urban areas and villages - and the health system and basic services have largely collapsed or been damaged by the warring parties,” says Jean Stowell, MSF head of mission in Sudan. “Only 20 to 30 percent of health facilities remain functional in Sudan, meaning that there is extremely limited availability of healthcare for people across the country.”

In areas close to hostilities, MSF teams have treated women, men, and children injured by stray bullets and in the fighting, including shrapnel wounds, blast, and gunshot injuries. Since April 2023, MSF-supported facilities have received more than 22,800 cases of trauma injuries and performed more than 4,600 surgeries, many of them related to the violence that occurred in Khartoum and Darfur. In Wad Madani, a town surrounded by three active frontlines, we currently see 200 patients per month with violence-related injuries.

According to the UN, more than eight million people have already been forced to flee their homes and been displaced multiple times, and 25 million – half of the country’s population – are estimated to need humanitarian assistance.

“Every day we see patients dying because of violence-related injuries, children perishing due to malnutrition and the lack of vaccines, women with complications after unsafe deliveries, patients who have experienced sexual violence, and people with chronic diseases who cannot access their medicines,” says Stowell. “Despite all this, there is an extremely disturbing humanitarian void.”

Although MSF works in good cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the Government of Sudan has persistently and deliberately obstructed access to humanitarian aid, especially to areas outside of their control. It has systematically denied travel permits for humanitarian staff and supplies to cross the front lines, restricted the use of border crossings, and established a highly restrictive process for obtaining humanitarian visas.

“Today, our biggest challenge is the scarcity of medical supplies,” says Ibrahim*, an MSF doctor working in Khartoum. “We’ve run out of surgical equipment, and we are on the brink of stopping all work unless supplies arrive.”

Khartoum is a city that has been under blockade for the past six months. A similar situation has been impacting the city of Wad Madani since January.

In RSF-controlled areas, where many different militias and armed groups also operate, health facilities and warehouses were frequently looted in the first months of the conflict. Incidents such as carjacking happen on a regular basis, and medical workers, particularly from the Ministry of Health, have been harassed and arrested.

In hard-to-reach areas like Darfur, Khartoum, or Al-Jazirah, we often find ourselves the only, or one of the few, international humanitarian organisations present. The needs far exceed our capacity to respond. Even in more accessible areas such as White Nile, Blue Nile, Kassala, and Gedaref states, the overall response is negligible: a drop in the ocean.

One example is the catastrophic malnutrition crisis in Zamzam camp in North Darfur, where there have been no food distributions from the World Food Programme since May 2023. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of the children we screened there in a rapid assessment in January were found to have acute malnutrition – seven percent were severe cases. Forty percent of pregnant and breastfeeding women were suffering from malnutrition, and there was a devastating mortality rate across the camp of 2.5 deaths per 10,000 people per day.

“The situation in Sudan was already very fragile before the war and it has now become catastrophic,” says Ozan Agbas, MSF Emergency Operations Manager for Sudan. “In many of the areas where MSF has started emergency activities, we have not seen the return of the international humanitarian organisations that initially evacuated in April last year.”

Khadija Mohammad Abakkar, who had to flee her home in Zalingei, Central Darfur, in search of safety, recounts how difficult it was to survive without humanitarian assistance: “During the fighting, there was no access to healthcare or food in the camp. I sold my belongings to earn some money for food.”

While these are difficult conditions in which to operate, the response should have increased, not diminished, especially in the areas where access is possible. Increased efforts are urgently needed by all humanitarian organisations to find solutions to these problems and scale up activities across the country.

“The United Nations and their partners have persisted in self-imposed restrictions on accessing these regions,” says Agbas. “As a result, they have not even pre-positioned themselves to intervene or establish teams on the ground when opportunities arise.”

MSF calls on the warring parties to adhere to International Humanitarian Law and the humanitarian resolutions of the Jeddah declaration  by putting in place mechanisms to protect civilians and to ensure safe humanitarian access to all areas of Sudan without exception – including stopping blockages. MSF also calls on the UN to show more boldness in the face of this enormous crisis and to focus on clear results related to increasing access so that they actively contribute towards enabling a rapid and massive scale-up of humanitarian assistance. MSF also urges donors to increase funding for the humanitarian response in Sudan.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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