What is happening in Wad Madani, Sudan?
On December 15, 2023, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) launched an attack on Wad Madani, Sudan, and took control of several other cities and areas in Al Jazirah state within days. Since then, more than half a million people have fled the fighting and ensuing insecurity, including about 234,000 internally displaced people who had previously sought refuge in Wad Madani as violence in Khartoum intensified.
The chaos following the evolving conflict dynamics and the severe insecurity and widespread violence created an environment in which Doctors Without Borders (MSF) could no longer operate in Wad Madani. MSF had to suspend all activities and evacuate its staff from Wad Madani on December 19, leaving behind a population with even less access to basic medical services. We also had to evacuate staff from Damazine, Um Rakuba in Gedaref state, and Doka. In Damazine, we reduced activities.
What are the conditions in Wad Madani, and how is MSF helping?
MSF has been present in Wad Madani since May 2023. Conditions were already dire for the half a million internally displaced people living there, which made up 8 per cent of all internally displaced people in Sudan—already the world’s largest internal displacement crisis, with more than 6 million forced from their homes within the country in addition to more than 1.42 million who have fled across borders. Between May and November, MSF teams performed 18,390 medical consultations (40 per cent of them for children under 15 years old) in several of the hundreds of locations hosting displaced people across the state, some in schools or old public buildings.
“Through its mobile clinics, MSF diagnosed and referred 66 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition with serious complications in the past six months—cases that could be fatal if not treated in a hospital urgently,” says Slaymen Ammar, MSF medical coordinator for Sudan. “But health facilities were overwhelmed. As the population of the city had increased by 30 per cent, there were more and more patients, but considerable supply and staffing challenges. As prices soared for all goods, access to lifesaving services was an obstacle for both displaced people and regular residents. Nowadays, with the departure of most international organisations—and despite efforts of local volunteer health workers—we can only assume it has worsened.”
What are we witnessing in Wad Madani?
During the last month, MSF teams in Gedaref and Kassala states—where MSF has been operational since 2021 in response to the Ethiopian Tigray crisis—witnessed the arrival of thousands of people from Wad Madani and are currently assessing and responding to the escalating health and humanitarian needs. In Tanideba (Gedaref), MSF has started a short-term emergency intervention for newly displaced Ethiopian refugees and Sudanese citizens, covering basic health care, water and sanitation, and food rations. This included one-off distributions and donations. However, it is important to note that activities in Tanideba were temporarily reduced for a short while due to the escalation of conflict in Wad Madani.
The conflict in Sudan has caused immeasurable suffering, displaced millions, killed thousands, and injured countless others. For many displaced people, Gedaref and Kassala are just the latest stops in a long journey to seek safety, during which they have suffered violence and have endured a lack of essential needs such as food, clean water, sanitation, and access to medical care.
Internally displaced people in Wad Madani, Sudan.
“We are originally from Darfur, but because of the violent clashes and the crisis over there, we went to Khartoum. But the war followed us to Khartoum, so we went to Wad Madani. And then, the story continues,” says Maha, a displaced woman who arrived with her family in Tanideba IDP camp two weeks ago from Wad Madani. Maha’s family fled Khartoum eight months ago after a shelling hit their house and severely injured one of her children.
“We were six people in the house, and at that time I was nine months pregnant. Our house was destroyed. I was hit on my arm, but my child got a much worse injury on his head. We managed to take him to the hospital because he needed urgent lifesaving surgery. But as soon as he was discharged, we had to flee the city because of insecurity. We arrived in the internally displaced camp in Wad Madani, and I delivered there,” she continues.
In mid-December, Maha and her family fled once again to Tanideba: “Clashes started, and we started hearing sounds of fires and those armed men fighting again. Immediately, we decided to leave. I started thinking about where we should go now. Nowhere was safe at that time.”
In a region where healthcare and essential medicine were already extremely limited, displaced populations are now suffering from growing health demands stemming from the direct and indirect effects of violence. Basic needs are now further escalating and need an urgent response.
"At the gathering sites in Kassala city, displaced people told our teams they haven’t received any assistance since their arrival in mid to late December,” explains Pauline Lenglart, MSF emergency project coordinator in Sudan. “Families are sleeping on the ground, access to healthcare is still severely restricted, there are few working medical facilities, and medicines aren't provided for free. Many people have told us that they are unable to afford items like food and medicine, forcing them to choose between these necessities. The MSF team is constantly evaluating the needs at new sites that are opening to house recently displaced people. In all these places, we see that the amount of humanitarian assistance provided is still woefully inadequate to meet people's basic needs and ensure [their] dignified living conditions."
About Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is a global network of principled medical and other professionals who specialise in medical humanitarian work, driven by our common humanity and guided by medical ethics. We strive to bring emergency medical care to people caught in conflicts, crises, and disasters in more than 70 countries worldwide.
In South Africa, the organisation is recognised as one of the pioneers of providing Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) in the public sector and started the first HIV programmes in South Africa in 1999. Until today, the focus of MSF’s interventions in the country has primarily been on developing new testing and treatment strategies for HIV/AIDS and TB in Eshowe (Kwa-Zulu Natal) and Khayelitsha (Western Cape).
In Tshwane, we run a migration project, and we offer medical and psychosocial care to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, who struggle to access public health services under South Africa’s increasingly restrictive.
Previously we offered free, high-quality, confidential medical care to survivors of SGBV in Rustenburg.
To learn more about our work in South Africa, please visit this page on our website (www.msf.org.za). To support MSF’s work:
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