The rebel-held areas of Sudan's Nuba Mountains have been under blockade since the start of a civil war in 2011 — with the Sudanese government denying all access for food, supplies and humanitarian aid. At the only hospital in the region, deaths due to preventable illnesses are on the increase.
Mother of Mercy Hospital is the only medical facility in all of South Kordofan province. The 80-bed hospital runs at triple its capacity. The staff is currently dealing with a large-scale measles outbreak — with more than 1,000 admissions for measles alone just last month, and a 25-per-thousand measles-related fatality rate. Nurse Maizub Hassen says many more cases are assumed to be undetected in rural villages.
“This is when the measles become serious. They come to the hospital. Every day we do receive almost 20 admissions, sometimes 10 admissions in a day, and it is really very, very dangerous here," he said. “But the bigger problem here is the vaccines. We don't have vaccines at all.”
For three years, Sudan's government has refused to let humanitarian aid into rebel-controlled areas. As a result, vaccine supplies were cut off, leaving the whole community here unvaccinated and thousands of children at risk of dying from otherwise preventable diseases. Hassen also checks the younger children for signs of malnutrition. He says at least 40 percent of these children are malnourished because of poor access to food.
Sometimes it's because mothers are not feeding, and sometimes it's because of sickness, "but mostly it's because of lack of food," he said. "They are not getting the food which gives a balanced diet.”
In addition to the blockade, Sudan's government has been accused of targeting civilians, hospitals and aid convoys destroying the little resources left in this cut-off region, though the government denies those allegations. Clinical officer Moral Said says many are injured but the hospital lacks enough supplies to treat them.
“Since the war started in 2011, we really have had a lot of patients who have been wounded, where there have been gunshots [from] Antonov jet fighters," he said. In 2014 alone, there were almost 300 such cases, he said.
Just outside the hospital, villagers constantly watch the skies for warplanes. Children play in foxholes. Every shopkeeper has a dugout to hide in. Just a few weeks ago, six young children were killed in a single missile strike in a market. Nowal, 11, was the only survivor. Five of her brothers and sisters were killed. Nowal's mother, Naires Osman, says she was away when the bombs fell.
“When I came home, I saw my five children just dead on the floor, and my daughter here was wounded," she said. "I was confused. I did not know what to do. I was out of my mind. I could not believe what had happened, and, that day, I decided to come here and stay in Gidel.”
Ambulance driver Amir was one of the first people to arrive at the scene. He displayed a picture of the house after the bomb hit.
“I feel so bad. I don't have the power to do anything. I just pray,” the mother of the dead children said.
The "Enough Project," an anti-genocide group, says Sudan's regime "continues to use the denial of humanitarian aid as a weapon of war." Without open humanitarian corridors, the Nuba mountains remain cut off from the outside world, and the region's only hospital is left struggling to cope.