Saturday, November 4, 2023

Sudanese Doctors Recount Hospital Horrors Amid Fighting


Alhindy Saad Mustafa, a 40-year-old Sudanese doctor, was working at Al-Moalem Medical City when the first blasts of heavy artillery pierced the sunny blue skies of Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum. It was about 9am on April 15 at the sprawling private hospital 5km (3 miles) north of Khartoum International Airport – an epicentre of fighting in a violent power struggle between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Mustafa saw thick plumes of black smoke rising from the airport as he looked out of a hospital window. Before any staff or patients managed to leave the hospital, it was surrounded by RSF vehicles. Over the next four days, Mustafa said, hundreds of injured people “bloodied from head to toe” were rushed into the hospital as medical staff took cover from bullets and shells rained through the hospital’s windows.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said at least 413 people have been killed and more than 3,550 wounded over the past week. With the healthcare system paralysed after dozens of hospitals were knocked out of service by days of unrelenting violence, doctors and international humanitarian groups have sounded the alarm over the dire humanitarian situation unfolding in Sudan.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors and Sudan’s Doctors Union have estimated that 70 percent, or 39 out of 59 hospitals, in Khartoum and nearby states had to cease operations. The WHO warned that hospitals were running out of blood, medical equipment and supplies.

Within hours of the initial fighting, about 200 staff members and 150 patients at Al-Moalem Medical City were trapped as heavy artillery rained down on the hospital, destroying large sections of the complex and forcing everyone towards the ground floor. The staff tried to send people home and to safety as fighting around the hospital intensified. Eventually, food and bottled water ran out, and medical supplies and equipment became scarce.

“The worst thing was seeing the injured men and chronic patients struggling to survive,” Mustafa said. “They were already vulnerable, and we felt paralysed trying to help them.”

By Tuesday, talk of a ceasefire between the warring generals, the army’s Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF’s Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, gave everyone hope that they might manage to escape. Mustafa left the hospital with a colleague to head to their homes in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman. The two doctors were picked up by one of their friends. In the car with them were two university students who also were hoping to cross the Nile during the lull in fighting.

“When another ceasefire attempt was announced on Wednesday, the group made a run for their homes in the afternoon. After twice being stopped and searched by RSF forces, they finally crossed the bridge to Omdurman.”

Although he is grateful to be back, his mind has been unable to rest as the healthcare system continues to collapse and flames of violence engulf his country. Mustafa’s colleagues who stayed behind managed to transfer their remaining patients to other facilities as the attacks and lack of medical supplies at Al-Moalem hospital eventually pushed it to join the growing list of healthcare facilities to shut down.

According to Asim Abaro, a 30-year-old doctor in Omdurman, many hospitals have been forced to remain closed because their medical supplies have run out and their oxygen stations have been destroyed. “It’s not safe for anyone to move on the streets,” Abaro told Al Jazeera. “Doctors and patients are finding it difficult to reach the few working hospitals that remain open.”

Abaro said doctors have been relying on telephones and social media to arrange and carry out online consultations for patients across Khartoum and neighbouring states. According to Germain Mwehu, spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sudan, the healthcare crisis is linked to medical staff being unable to reach hospitals, restrictions on the movement of ambulances, and the lack of electricity and water at many hospitals.

“Khartoum remains the most affected by this dangerous security situation,” he told Al Jazeera. Even as a 72-hour ceasefire was announced on Friday evening to enable people to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, the fighting has continued, dealing a blow to international efforts to end more than a week of fighting.

Like Mustafa, Abaro appealed for a truce to allow medical staff to help those most in need. “The situation is getting really difficult,” Abaro said. “If there’s no intervention soon, there’s really no telling how bad it’ll get.”

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