Tens of thousands of pregnant women are unable to access vital medical care as heavy fighting continues to engulf Sudan, the United Nations has warned.
Hospitals have become targets of attacks from warring factions, and medical supplies looted.
The United Nations has warned it has become extremely difficult for pregnant women to leave their homes and seek essential antenatal care, safe delivery services, or postnatal care. It added that 219,00 pregnant women are at risk in the capital, and 24,000 women expected to give birth in the coming weeks.
Fighting erupted on Saturday between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) after weeks of tension.
The Sudanese army and paramilitary RSF were once allies. Their leaders Gen Burhan and Lt. Gen. Hemedti had both served under the previous president, Omar al-Bashir, until they turned on him in 2019 during pro-democracy protests.
In 2021 they seized power together in a coup, however, in recent months tensions have mounted over the proposed integration of the RSF into the military.
Both sides have large numbers of troops. The regular military numbers around 120,000, while the RSF has as many as 150,000, and a fearsome reputation for violence.
Sudan is Africa’s third biggest country and holds international importance, with Russia, the US, and Saudi Arabia vying for influence.
The country’s military leadership has said at least 400 people have been killed in the current spate of violence, while the UN reported between 10-20,000 people have fled the country.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said that hospitals have been looted, ambulances hijacked, and medical workers attacked.
Twenty hospitals have been forced to shut down in the capital. A further 12 hospitals across the country are still operating but could soon close as they struggle with power and water cuts and a lack of staff, it said.
Hospitals that have remained operational have also reported shortages of blood, transfusion equipment, intravenous fluids and medical supplies.
‘You risk your life on the streets’
According to Laila Baker, UNFPA regional director for Arab States, speaking from Jerusalem, one patient was caught in the crossfire and shot when attempting to reach a hospital four days ago.
“We were able to save the baby, but the mother passed away,” Ms Baker said. “You risk your life going out on the streets.”
While the UNFPA is running a hotline to connect those in labour with midwives, it is concerned communication lines could be disrupted as the fighting intensifies.
“We are acutely concerned about the 220,000 pregnant women in Khartoum. There is no way we can monitor them, there is no access to safe delivery services, no way to ensure meagre communication,” she said.
CNN reported on Tuesday that shelling of one hospital in the capital had left a six-year-old dead and two other children seriously wounded.
“Can you believe that we left the hospital and left behind children in incubators and patients in intensive care without any medical personnel,” one medic told the American broadcaster. “The smell of death was everywhere.”
High levels of stress and anxiety during pregnancy may affect a baby’s brain development or immune system and can lead to preterm birth or even miscarriage.
“Women can go into premature delivery, and complications can arise from panic. The circumstances are so tenuous that mistakes can happen,” said Ms Baker.
If the violence does not stop, there is a danger that the health system will collapse and pregnant women and their unborn children will die, warned UNFPA.
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