Lives of pregnant women and newborns at risk in Sudan as hospitals run out of fuel
As fighting rages in Sudan, fuel shortages and power cuts have forced many hospitals in Khartoum and across the country to suspend emergency obstetric and neonatal care services
There are over 260,000 pregnant women at present, an estimated 90,000 of whom are expected to give birth in the next three months – as violence, fear and chaos envelop their lives
“We are running out of fuel. If the electricity cuts persist, we don’t know how we will be able to assist pregnant women giving birth a week from now,” said Sarah, a midwife at the Ombada Hospital in Sudan’s capital Khartoum.
As fighting rages in Sudan, fuel shortages and power cuts have forced many hospitals in Khartoum and across the country to suspend emergency obstetric and neonatal care services. Even finding and transporting fuel to reach health facilities is mired in danger, given the extreme insecurity with active shooting, looting and destruction of dozens of health facilities.
“The hospital generators consume one barrel of fuel every three hours when the electricity is out. We only have half a barrel left. We urgently need fuel to continue providing pregnant women with critical care,” the general manager of the Saudi Maternity Hospital in Khartoum told UNFPA.
The Ombada and Saudi hospitals, both supported by UNFPA, are among the few functioning in Khartoum state. They have received over 250 women per day since the conflict erupted on 15 April and performed a daily average of 54 operations – yet electricity cuts and the lack of fuel are threatening the hospitals’ ability to continue functioning.
Anna, a midwife at the Omdurman hospital, which is also receiving support from UNFPA, explained, “We brought a woman suffering from birth complications to the hospital. The doctor performed a Caesarean section and informed us that this was the last surgery they could do, as fuel supplies had run out.”
Dangerously high health and protection needs for women and girls
Since the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces began over 1.2 million people have been displaced within the already impoverished country, and hundreds of thousands have fled across neighbouring borders. Most have scarce to no access to health care, water or basic supplies.
In May, UNFPA and local partner the CAFA Development Organization provided fuel for seven maternity hospitals in Khartoum to ensure life-saving health services were available for women, girls and newborns. In just one week, more than 1,000 deliveries and Caesarean sections were safely carried out – but more support is needed to secure fuel and supplies, or key hospitals won’t be able to sustain their essential services.
There are over 260,000 pregnant women at present, an estimated 90,000 of whom are expected to give birth in the next three months – as violence, fear and chaos envelop their lives. All are in need of immediate access to essential reproductive health services.
The same is true for more than 4 million women and girls caught up in the conflict or fleeing the violence, who are at grave risk of sexual abuse and exploitation; those in temporary, overcrowded settlement sites and sleeping out in the open are particularly vulnerable.
Ensuring critical services
The latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan now aims to assist 24.7 million people – a 57 per cent increase compared to the beginning of 2023. Some 11 million people are in urgent need of health assistance, including more than 2.6 million women and girls of reproductive age who have barely any support for pregnancy, contraception, treatment for sexually transmitted infections or response services for sexual violence – which is reported to be rising as the crisis escalates.
Around 27,000 UNFPA-trained and supported midwives across Sudan are risking their own lives by travelling to pregnant women’s homes, ensuring safe births and vital care. Midwives are also being trained on the clinical management of rape to facilitate access to services in conflict-affected areas, where more than two thirds of health facilities are reported as being out of service; there are distressing reports of newborns dying due to a lack of oxygen amid electricity blackouts.
UNFPA is set to distribute 10 metric tonnes of life-saving sexual and reproductive health supplies to hospitals and health facilities across Sudan, which can assist with more than 11,000 safe births, 2,000 Caesarean sections and 5,800 reproductive health emergencies. Solar power systems successfully piloted by UNFPA in several hospitals in Sudan last year could also be expanded to health centres in Khartoum; these would provide round-the-clock electricity for maternity wards, operating rooms, blood bank refrigerators, incubators and medicine storage facilities, among others.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).