WHO condemns attacks on health care workers in Sudan

The World Health Organisation has expressed concern over the escalating crisis in Sudan, including 15 reported attacks on health care workers and health facilities since November 2021.

According to WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the Organisation is following the escalating crisis with great concern.

So far, 11 incidents have been confirmed in the capital, Khartoum, and other cities.

“Most of these attacks were committed against healthcare workers in the form of physical assault, obstruction, violent searches, and related psychological threats and intimidation,” Al-Mandhari said.

At least two of the confirmed incidents involved raids and incursions by military personnel on facilities, he said.

Others included arrests 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,” the WHO official said.

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.

Al-Mandhari said he was aware of the interception of ambulances, personnel and patients during their attempts to find safety.

“The UN agency is concerned about how these actions severely restrict access to healthcare, which is especially problematic with the COVID-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 fled without 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,” Al-Mandhari said.

With COVID-19 still a 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.

Al-Mandhari said “the sanctity and safety of health care…must be respected and remain neutral, even within a highly politicised context.”

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 widespread social and political unrest surrounding the overthrow of former ruler Omar al-Bashir – only seven were registered.

In 2021, 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, WHO is working to ensure that hospitals continue to operate.

The organisation has 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.

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