With the crisis escalating in Sudan, there have been 15 reports of attacks on healthcare workers and health facilities since last November, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.
According to WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the Organization is following the escalating crisis “with great concern”.
So far, 11 incidents have been confirmedin the capital, Khartoum, and other cities.
“Most of these attackswere committed against healthcare workers in the form of physical assault, obstruction, violent searches, and related psychological threats and intimidation”, said Dr. Al-Mandhari.
A Protester holding the Sudanese flag, in Khartoum, Sudan., by Salah Naser
At least twoof the confirmed incidents involved raids and incursions by military personnel on facilities, he said. Others includedarrests of patients and workers, as well as injury, detention and forced searches.
“These targeted attacks on healthcare workers, patients and facilities are a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and must stop now”, added the WHO official.
Reports of increased attacks, come against the backdrop of widespread and continued protests across Sudan, over the full military takeover, last October, ending transitional civilian power-sharing arrangements.
Suspension of services
Dr. Al-Mandharisaid he was aware of the interception of ambulances, personnel and patients during their attempts to find safety.
The UN agency is concerned about howthese actions severely restrict access to healthcare, which is especially problematic with theCOVID-19 pandemic and other public health threats.
The incidents have already resulted in the suspension of emergency services in some facilities. Some patients and medical personnel have also fledwithout completing medical treatment.
“Health care workers who have taken a professional oath to save the lives of others must be allowed to work without fear or concern for their personal well-being or that of their patients”, said Dr. Al-Mandhari.
With COVID-19 stilla significant threat, and people at risk of diseases such as dengue fever, malaria, measles and hepatitis E,the agency says it is “imperative” that the health sector continues to function unimpeded.
WHO called for an immediate cessation of all activities that endanger the lives of health care workers and patients or impede delivery of essential health services.
The regional agency head also called on the authorities to enforce implementation of Sudan’s Law on the Protection of Doctors, Medical Staff and Health Establishments, approved in 2020, and to comply with international humanitarian law.
Patients in a wating room of a health facility in Sudan., by © UNICEF/Hussein Mohammed Sabir
For Dr. Al-Mandhari, “the sanctity and safety of health care…must be respected and remain neutral, even within a highly politicized context.”
Cases going up
WHO believes the number of incidents is cause for great concern, especially as the country documented a relatively low number of incidents in previous years.
There was only one in 2020 and, in 2019 -despite the widespreadsocial and political unrest surrounding the overthrow of former ruler Omar al-Bashir – only seven were registered.
Last year, the country recorded 26 attacks of this type, with four deaths and 38 injuries of healthcare workers and patients.
Most of the incidents were direct assaults on workers, which is an unusual pattern compared to other countries.
In collaboration with the Sudanese Federal Ministry of Health and partners, WHOis working to ensure that hospitals continue to operate.
The Organizationhas trained dozens of doctors and medical staff in all states. It has also distributed, with the support of partners, several new ambulances.
Since the end of October, the agency has distributed 856 rapid response kits to Khartoum and other priority states, enough to cover the needs of 1.1 million people for three months.