As fighting between warring factions has gripped Sudan in recent days, hospitals treating people injured in clashes have become targets of attacks, dealing a devastating blow to Sudan’s health sector. the nation.
In one episode, five eyewitnesses told CNN that the paramilitary group fighting Sudan’s army for control of the country besieged and shelled a hospital in the capital Khartoum on Sunday, killing at least one child and causing terrified medical personnel flee for their lives.
Leaders of the opposing sides, Sudan’s military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former paramilitary deputy chief Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, have traded blame for instigating the fighting that has spread across the country since Saturday. Burhan has accused Dagalo of organizing a “coup attempt”; Dagolo, in turn, has called Burhan a “criminal”.
But at al-Moallem hospital in central Khartoum, where heavy shelling forced staff to evacuate, leaving some patients behind, witnesses said they have little doubt what happened.
“I have no doubt that they deliberately attacked the hospital,” said a doctor who evacuated the hospital on Sunday after Dagalo’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) besieged it. CNN is not using any of the hospital’s doctors’ real names in this article for security reasons.
The hospital is meters from the Sudanese army headquarters, which the RSF have repeatedly attempted to take over. Doctors said he was treating dozens of wounded army soldiers and their families. The hospital’s maternity ward was hit by shelling, causing a wall to collapse, according to hospital employees.
A 6-year-old boy died in the building, a doctor said. Two other children were seriously injured. As the shelling intensified, doctors and patients huddled in the hallway and prayed.
At first we were praying for salvation,” said the doctor. “Then, when the shelling got worse, we started discussing what would be the least painful part of the body to be shot at and we started praying that we would die without pain.”
It is unclear if the RSF has taken control of the hospital as it tries to seize the nearby army headquarters, a flashpoint of violence in Khartoum.
“The evacuation was chaos,” the doctor said. “I thought I was going to vomit. I stumbled and fell to the ground.”
“Can you believe that we left the hospital and left children in incubators and patients in intensive care without medical staff,” said another doctor. “The smell of death was everywhere.”
“There was no electricity, no water inside the hospital,” said a third doctor. “None of our equipment was working, a woman sheltering with us had a two-day-old baby. I don’t even know what happened to her.”
At least half a dozen hospitals have been attacked by both warring sides, according to the Sudan Doctors Union.
“Sudan’s hospitals under fire,” the Central Committee of Sudanese doctors said in a statement on its Facebook page, warning of the possible collapse of the health sector if fighting continues.
“Most of the large and specialized hospitals are out of service as a result of being forcibly evacuated by conflicting military forces or being targeted by shelling and others. Some other hospitals have had their human and medical supplies, water and electricity cut off,” the committee said.
Doctors Without Borders said its teams were “trapped by ongoing heavy fighting and unable to access warehouses to deliver vital medical supplies to hospitals” and that its facility in Nyala, south Sarfur, had been looted.
Food, water and energy shortages are rampant as Sudan has endured a third day of fighting, which has spread from Khartoum to the entire country.
“The food in the fridge and freezers went bad,” Eman Abu Garjah, a Khartoum-based Sudanese-British doctor, told CNN. “We don’t have supplies right now, so we’re trying to go somewhere where stores are open.”
“Planes were flying overhead earlier that day. They not only woke us up, but prevented us from going back to sleep,” she said.
“It’s Ramadan, we get up for morning prayers and then you usually take a little nap and wake up again for afternoon prayers. But the dream was simply not possible. The house was rattling and the windows were shaking.”
Until recently, Dagalo and Burhan were allies. The two worked together to overthrow ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and played a pivotal role in the 2021 military coup.
However, tensions arose during recent negotiations to integrate the RSF into the country’s armed forces as part of plans to restore civilian rule.
In an interview with CNN on Monday, Burhan accused Dagalo of trying to “capture and kill” him during an attempt by the paramilitary leader to seize the presidential palace.
In response to the accusation, an RSF spokesman called Burhan “a wanted fugitive.”
“We are looking to capture him and bring him to justice. We are fighting for all the Sudanese people,” the RSF spokesman said.
Burhan also accused the RSF of breaking a proposed ceasefire on Sunday and Monday.
“Yesterday and today a proposal for a humanitarian ceasefire was presented and agreed,” Burhan said from army headquarters as gunshots could be heard in the background.
“Unfortunately, it did not abide by (the ceasefire),” he added. “You can hear at this moment the attempts to assault the Army headquarters and the indiscriminate attacks with mortars. He is using the humanitarian pause to continue the fight.”
The RSF denies having broken the ceasefire.
It is unclear how much control RSF has wrested from the country’s military. Dagalo claims that he now controls the country’s major military sites, a claim that Burhan has repeatedly disputed.
“We are under attack from all directions,” Dagalo told CNN’s Larry Madowo in a phone interview on Sunday. “We stopped fighting and the other side didn’t, which put us in a bind and we had to keep fighting to defend ourselves,” he said.
The RSF is the preeminent paramilitary group in Sudan, whose leader, Dagalo, has enjoyed a rapid rise to power.
During the Darfur conflict in Sudan, which began in the early 2000s, he was the leader of Sudan’s notorious Janjaweed forces, implicated in human rights violations and atrocities.
An international outcry prompted former President Bashir to formalize the group into paramilitary forces known as Border Intelligence Units.
In 2007, his troops became part of the country’s intelligence services, and in 2013, Bashir created the RSF, a paramilitary group he oversaw and led by Dagalo. Dagalo turned on Bashir in 2019.
Months before the coup that ousted Bashir in April 2019, Dagalo’s forces opened fire on a pro-democracy sit-in and on Bashir in Khartoum, killing at least 118 people.
He was later appointed as a deputy to the transitional Sovereign Council that ruled Sudan in partnership with the civilian leadership.
International powers have expressed alarm at the ongoing violence in Sudan. In addition to concerns about civilians, there are likely other motivations at play, the country is rich in resources and strategically located. CNN previously reported on how Russia has colluded with its military leaders to smuggle gold out of Sudan.