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Sudan: Hospitals in West Darfur cut off by the conflict

08 Jun 23 | 13 Jul 23
This article is more than one year old

Sudan: Hospitals in West Darfur cut off by the conflict

Before the conflict: The MSF-run paediatric inpatient department at El Geneina Teaching Hospital in West Darfur (photo taken June 2022) Caption
Before the conflict: The MSF-run paediatric inpatient department at El Geneina Teaching Hospital in West Darfur (photo taken June 2022)

El Geneina translates as "the little garden", but right now this meaning feels at odds with the brutal reality experienced by people living in the city.

Here, in the capital of Sudan’s West Darfur State, it’s estimated that around 500 people have been killed since fighting erupted across the country in April. It’s estimated that a similar number of wounded remain trapped in the city, unable to access lifesaving care. However, no one can get into the city to help them, and no one can get them out. 

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has a surgical team waiting in Adré, across the border in neighbouring Chad, but the evacuation of patients is currently impossible due to the fighting. 

"In these harrowing circumstances, the hospital we supported was also looted. All the medical materials were taken and parts of the hospital were destroyed."

Moussa Ibrahim
MSF logistics supervisor

West Darfur State has been grappling with decades of violence and displacement. In the initial days of the current conflict, which escalated on 15 April, El Geneina remained calm, suggesting that the violence might not reach it. 

However, on April 24, heavy fighting hit the city.

At the same time, groups from different communities took up arms in self-defence. With a lack of clear community-based control, the city quickly became a hotspot for intense fighting and frequent looting.

The residents of El Geneina found themselves caught in a tidal wave of violence and insecurity – their lives endangered not just by the conflict but also by their inability to access healthcare. This has affected almost every demographic seeking medical treatment – including pregnant women and children.

Healthcare under attack

For the past few years, MSF teams have been supporting the El Geneina Teaching Hospital, the main healthcare facility in West Darfur. This hospital not only serves the people of El Geneina but also the wider West Darfur region.

However, on April 26, as the situation worsened, the hospital was attacked and looted. It is currently unable to function.

To date, our teams have not been able to access the hospital, nor have they been able to carry out mobile clinics reaching the nomadic communities of Galala, Mogshasha, Wadi Rati and Gelchek. 

We have been able to continue services at Kreinik Hospital, but it is running out of supplies.

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Moussa Ibrahim, an MSF logistics supervisor based at El Geneina, recently crossed the border into Chad to coordinate getting supplies into West Darfur. Now back in El Geneina, he shares this update:

"Since July 2021, I have held the position of logistics supervisor with MSF and have been living in El Geneina. 

My visit to Chad was because of the internet and communications blackout that we have been experiencing due to the disruption. I travelled to help coordinate with the MSF teams based in Adré, who have been on standby and ready to intervene and support wherever possible. 

The path from El Geneina to Chad is riddled with dangers as armed groups are often on patrol and can stop you on your route. There is no guarantee of security. 

The consequences of the escalating conflict are devastating, with attacks on humanitarian organisations, police headquarters where weapons were stolen, and civilian locations like the local market and the main university. 

In these harrowing circumstances, the hospital we supported was also looted. All the medical materials were taken and parts of the hospital were destroyed. 

As a humanitarian logistician, it's heartbreaking to witness our efforts developed over the years now shattered. For years, MSF provided medical assistance to all communities in West Darfur, who, due to frequent violent disturbances, would otherwise have no access to healthcare.

In El Geneina Teaching Hospital, MSF managed the paediatric and nutrition inpatient departments, infection prevention control measures, and water and sanitation services. 

Over the years we witnessed a steady stream of patients coming not just from El Geneina city and the nearest camps for displaced families, but from all over West Darfur. 

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Movement in the city is currently limited to the immediate area around one's house due to the risk of random shootings, snipers, and carjackings. Access to basic necessities like water is burdened with danger, and the task of retrieving bodies from the streets has become impossible. 

During the first days of the fighting, the Red Crescent was able to collect deceased bodies from the streets. However, as the situation worsened, it became impossible to continue this, leaving the bodies uncollected. Five days ago, access was finally gained but by that point the bodies had decomposed to the extent that they couldn't be removed. Now, the best that can be done is to gather the bodies in a single location.

This situation is unbearable and requires urgent intervention. The negotiations between community leaders and all warring parties must be ensured to bring an end to this horrific situation. 

Most NGOs have left, but some – including our teams – have stayed. We are committed to providing much-needed healthcare to the people.

In order to continue vital humanitarian operations by those who have managed to remain in Sudan, sparing civilian lives and ensuring the safety of medical personnel and healthcare facilities is an absolute humanitarian imperative. 

Despite these circumstances, my stay in Chad was brief and I needed to return to my family in El Geneina. Nevertheless, the situation here remains dire and urgent action is necessary."

MSF and the crisis in Sudan

On Saturday 15 April, intense fighting broke out across Sudan with a wave of gunfire, shelling and airstrikes.

The violence between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has trapped millions of people in the middle of an unexpected conflict. Many have been forced to flee their homes while access to essential services such as healthcare has become increasingly difficult.

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams already working in Sudan have been responding to the crisis since its first moments.