United Nations agencies said Friday that millions of Sudanese cannot obtain treatment for emergency and chronic health conditions because fighting has brought the country’s fragile health system to near total collapse.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement violence and “shortages of supplies, damage or occupation of facilities and assaults on medical staff” are having a devastating impact on people’s lives and on their ability to access health care.
The World Health Organization has said that some 50 attacks on health care facilities have caused 10 deaths and 21 injuries since fighting began between the Sudanese armed forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces three months ago.
“Ongoing violence, rampant insecurity, repeated attacks on health, and limited access to essential health supplies, are putting the people of Sudan in a life-or-death situation, with no immediate political solution in sight,” Rick Brennan, emergency director for the WHO’s regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean said.
Speaking from Cairo, Brennan said the violence has had a huge impact on access to the most basic health care, including treatment of such common infections as pneumonia and diarrhea, trauma treatment, and obstetric care.
He said the conflict is preventing people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension from getting treatment.
“Patients who have been receiving dialysis for kidney failure and treatment for cancer are facing a sudden cessation of their treatment, with life-threatening consequences,” he said.
He said disrupted access to those services is risking the lives of 8,000 people, including 240 children who need regular dialysis sessions. He said many of an estimated 49,000 Sudanese cancer patients could die “without restoration of access to their cancer care.”
He said lack of access to health care is raising the risk of malaria, measles, dengue, and cholera outbreaks. The dangers, he said, are particularly acute with the onset of the rainy season.
“The delivery of health care across the entire country is limited by shortage of supplies, lack of health workers and functioning health facilities, and logistic constraints due to insecurity and roadblocks by militias,” he said.
The World Health Organization estimates 11 million people in Sudan need urgent health assistance, but few health facilities still are functioning. Brennan said that between two-thirds and 80% of hospitals are not functioning and “in West Darfur, only one hospital is operational, but only partially.”
Despite the ongoing insecurity and bureaucratic impediments, he said the WHO was working with local health authorities and U.N. agencies, including UNICEF and the U.N. Population Fund, to provide health care.
For example, he said more than 170 tons of medical supplies have been delivered to hospitals and therapeutic treatments have been provided for more than 100,000 severely malnourished children.
He said the WHO and and the U.N. Population Fund were working to provide women and girls access to sexual, reproductive, and maternal health care.
He added that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, which reportedly “is widespread in this conflict, as it is in so many conflicts,” were receiving medical and psychosocial support.
“But the reality is that there are large proportions of the population to whom we do not have access, especially in Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan,” he said.
“Therefore, together with our U.N. partners, we are exploring all options to expand our operations, including through cross-border assistance.”