1. Home
  2. News & stories
  3. Sudan: Violence forces MSF to evacuate Khartoum hospital

Sudan: Violence forces MSF to evacuate Khartoum hospital

10 Jul 24

Sudan: Violence forces MSF to evacuate Khartoum hospital

An MSF anaesthetist prepares a patient to have a bullet extracted at Bashair Teaching Hospital in Khartoum Caption
An MSF anaesthetist prepares a patient to have a bullet extracted at Bashair Teaching Hospital in Khartoum

After over a year of violent incidents both inside and outside Khartoum's Turkish Hospital – including threats made against the lives of our staff – Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is evacuating its team from the hospital.

This decision has not been taken lightly. MSF had managed to provide continuous hands-on, life-saving treatment in the facility for almost 14 months, despite many, often deliberate, obstructions from the warring parties.

In the first six months of 2024 alone, the team had seen a staggering 10,600 patients in the emergency room. However, as a result of recent events, this hands-on support is now no longer possible.

“The situation in the Turkish Hospital, located in an RSF-controlled area, has become untenable,” says Claire Nicolet, head of MSF’s emergency response in Sudan.

“Multiple violent incidents have taken place inside and outside the premises over the past 12 months, and the lives of our staff have been repeatedly threatened.

“Most recently, on the nights of June 17 and 18, dozens of wounded combatants were brought to the Turkish Hospital, and our team was aggressively woken up as Kalashnikovs were fired into their bedrooms.

“This type of violence against our staff is unacceptable. Hospitals and health facilities should be protected and respected by the warring parties as sanctuaries for the sick and wounded where health workers can safely deliver medical care.

“They cannot have their lives put at risk as they try to save the lives of other people.”

Violence and blockades

Over the past year, MSF staff working at the Turkish Hospital have been frequently harassed both inside the facility and on the street going to and from work. Many have been threatened with arrest.

At the start of June, one MSF employee was arrested inside the hospital by two armed men, taken to an unknown location, and severely beaten.

“The team are physically and mentally exhausted,” explains Nicolet.

“Due to the blockade that has been imposed by the Sudanese authorities since September – forbidding the transportation of medical supplies and humanitarian personnel into RSF-controlled areas – the team in the Turkish Hospital have been working without a break for the past 10 months.

“The blockade means it has not been possible for us to bring in a new team to replace them, and they have been working tirelessly to keep the hospital open under intense pressure.”

The Turkish Hospital remains open thanks to the presence of the Ministry of Health staff.  However, surgery will no longer be possible without the MSF staff who have been evacuated and the future of the hospital is uncertain.

At MSF's out-patient department in Batil refugee camp Gandhi Pant, a nurse, escorts a patient with a possible appendicitis to a waiting ambulance. 

Batil is one of three camps in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State sheltering at least 113,000 refugees who have crossed the border from Blue Nile state to escape fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the SPLM-North armed group. Refugees arrive at the camp with harrowing stories of being bombed out of their homes, or having their villages burned. The camps into which they have poured are on a vast floodplain, leaving many tents flooded and refugees vulnerable to disease. Mortality rates in Batil camp are at emergency levels, malnutrition rates are more than five times above emergency thresholds, and diarrhea and malarial cases are rising.

Help us prepare for the next emergency

Since the start of the war, the Turkish Hospital has been a crucial part of the health system, serving patients not only from Khartoum but also from as far away as Wad Madani in Al Jazirah state.

This is where MSF was also forced to suspend operations in May 2024 due to repeated security incidents and obstructions to bringing in staff and supplies – similar to those impacting Khartoum.

Stopping caesarean sections

Before MSF established an emergency room and expanded the capacity of the operating theatre at the Turkish Hospital in mid-May 2023, it was a specialist women’s and children’s hospital.

From January to June 2024, 1,338 babies were delivered with the assistance of the maternity team.

Crucially, almost 80 percent of all surgical procedures in the hospital over the past year were life-saving caesarean sections for women experiencing complications during pregnancy and childbirth. However, as a result of these repeated security incidents, all surgery in the hospital has now stopped.

MSF also provided ante-natal care, post-natal care, family planning, ran the paediatric intensive care unit, the inpatient therapeutic feeding centre for children with severe acute malnutrition, and the neonatal unit – the only neonatal unit in the whole of Khartoum. MSF’s hands-on support for these activities has also now been suspended.

The MSF-supported Turkish Hospital in Khartoum Caption
The MSF-supported Turkish Hospital in Khartoum

Bashair Teaching Hospital in Khartoum, also supported by MSF, has faced multiple armed incursions over the past few months as well. Between October 2023 and January 2024, MSF was forced to suspend surgery in the hospital.

However, MSF continues to work in this hospital despite these incidents. The security situation across the board has deteriorated significantly and in Khartoum especially.   

MSF urges the warring parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure – including hospitals and other healthcare sites.

For facilities that can remain operational, it is vital that medical supplies and humanitarian workers are provided with the necessary permits to be able to move across frontlines.

However, due to the ongoing blockade imposed on humanitarian organisations by the Sudanese authorities, many facilities are struggling to remain open and the lives and health of millions of people in Khartoum and other parts of the country are at risk.  

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.