On April 15, Sudan experienced a conflict and actions of violence, which abruptly deprived Sudanese citizens of vital resources like food, water, education, and healthcare. The healthcare system was severely affected, with damaged infrastructure, disrupted services, and a shortage of medical personnel. Hospitals were forced to evacuate patients, while ambulances faced difficulties reaching those in critical condition. The situation further impeded the provision of healthcare, including emergency and routine services. Humanitarian organizations encountered challenges in delivering supplies due to harm inflicted on their staff, while the number of people in urgent need for humanitarian assistance continues to increase.
To discuss this topic further, EMPHNET held a webinar titled “Sudan Crisis: Impacting Health and Creating Support Opportunities” as part of its WEBi series on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. The 90-minute session featured three subject matter experts namely: Director of Primary Health Care Directorate; Sudan Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Dalya Eltayeb, Director of Curative Medicine; Sudan Federal Ministry of Health., Dr. El-Mughira Abdullah, and Team Lead Epidemiology WHO Health Emergencies-Sudan, Dr. Ali Raja. This session was moderated by Senior Technical Officer, Public Health Emergency Management Center (PHEMC) EMPHNET, Ms. Asma Qannas.
In her presentation, Dr. Dalya Eltayeb, expressed her concerns about the deteriorating situation in the country while focusing on the current ground reality. She shed light on the impact the situation has on the health system, immediate actions taken, and challenges faced. She confirmed that the conflict in Sudan has been ravaging the nation for decades, primarily involving the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. As of June 17, at least two million people are displaced, while many have pursued refuge in neighboring countries such as Egypt, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
She added that the health system in Sudan was already facing challenges before the conflict, but the situation has worsened significantly since then. Medical facilities have been affected by the influx of internally displaced persons, overwhelming the already strained resources. The National Medicine Supply has been hindered by the occupation of military groups, and in order to mitigate the impact of the crisis, immediate actions were taken. A national health emergency was declared on April 15, leading to the activation of Health Emergency Response committees at various levels. Efforts were also made to develop master lists of needed supplies and medicines, and alternative means of ensuring financial support and the availability of essential resources were also established.
She ended her presentation with a silver lining, stating that despite the challenges, there have been remarkable examples of support and collaboration from local communities, and the Sudan Doctors Association, all of whom played a crucial role in providing assistance, including mobilizing resources, transporting staff, and supporting patients. She further added that international organizations such as the United Nations, the Red Cross, and various donor countries have also contributed to the relief efforts.
From his end, Dr. El-Mughira Abdullah focused on the curative aspect of the crisis in his presentation, particularly within the secondary and tertiary healthcare levels.
He shed light on the status of Sudan’s hospitals, both at the secondary and tertiary levels. He also mentioned the commendable efforts undertaken by healthcare professionals at the Federal Ministry of Health and State Ministry of Health to mitigate the crisis's impact on the health system.
Dr. El-Mughira discussed the details of the hospital infrastructure in Sudan, stating that around 560 hospitals (77% of total hospitals), including rural facilities are government-run, while the remaining 23% are located in the private sector. The impact of the crisis was particularly felt by the public hospitals, with a quarter of them situated in conflict-affected areas.
He then added that severe funding shortages adversely affected all pillars of the system, including health service delivery, the healthcare workforce, information management, and access to medical products and technology, and he candidly admitted that after the conflict in mid-April, the impact on hospitals became increasingly evident. The direct consequences included building destruction, occupation of several hospitals by militaries and inaccessibility for both patients and staff due to insecurity and the disrupted banking system.
Dr. El-Mughira Abdullah also stated that Information management systems were established through digital platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook to facilitate communication, data sharing, and reporting between the Federal Ministry of Health and State Ministries of Health. Additionally, certain hospitals, particularly in Khartoum, managed to sustain services, providing crucial care to patients. However, these efforts accounted for only a fraction of the overall healthcare capacity in Sudan.
He concluded his presentation by acknowledging the ongoing challenges and pressing needs within the healthcare system. Despite the adversities, healthcare professionals and authorities continue to work diligently to overcome the crisis's impact and ensure the provision of essential healthcare services to the Sudanese population.
In the session’s final presentation, Dr. Raja Muhammad Ali highlighted the worsening of the public health crisis in Sudan. He stated that prior to the conflict, Sudan experienced various disease outbreaks, including waterborne and vector-borne diseases, as well as the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Malaria and dengue were particularly prevalent, with the majority of cases and deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region reported from Sudan. Additionally, Sudan had to manage the healthcare needs of over 1.1 million refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs.
Dr. Raja Muhammad Ali added that the situation in Sudan has significantly deteriorated since the conflict escalated. He introduced some alarming statistics, revealing over 1,000 deaths and 11,000 injuries in a span of two months. Currently, only 20% of the facilities are fully operational, posing a severe strain on the already overburdened healthcare system.
He confirmed that humanitarian aid is urgently required to address the dire situation. The Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) estimates that over one-third of Sudan's population, including four million children and pregnant women, are in need of assistance. However, the funding for the HRP's health component is insufficient, with only 11% of the required amount secured.
He concluded his presentation by stating that the continuation of the Sudan's public health crisis brings with it a need for immediate and robust international support. This support is vital to alleviate the suffering of the population. Adequate funding, enhanced security measures to protect healthcare facilities and workers, and improved access to medical resources are urgently needed to mitigate the impact of the conflict and provide essential healthcare services to the affected population.
Following the presentations, Ms. Asma Qannas facilitated the Q&A session, where participants and panelists engaged in the discussion. She then concluded the session by thanking the speakers and the attendees for their participation.
A total of 125 participants attended the webinar, deeming it another success in the EMPHNET WEBi Series.