As the human catastrophe grips Sudan, the United Nations (UN) agency for reproductive health is stepping up support, with midwives playing a key role in helping provide safe deliveries amid growing violence.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on Saturday condemned an attack at a hospital in Khartoum, saying that “health facilities and hospitals should be safe havens in times of crisis.”
Laila Baker, UNFPA regional director, said pregnant women in the capital city are facing perilous conditions.
“We are acutely concerned. There is no way we can monitor them, there is no access to safe delivery services, no way to ensure even meagre communication,” she said. In addition, she pointed out that women can go into premature delivery, and complications can arise from panic, adding that “the circumstances are so tenuous.”
Two weeks of brutal fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have turned Khartoum, the epicentre of the violence, into a warzone and thrown the country into turmoil.
More than 500 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes, either within the country or across borders to neighbouring Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. Many of those fleeing have already been displaced multiple times due to political instability, hunger and climate crises, with untold numbers taking refuge in unsafe, crowded and unsanitary makeshift camps.
Health sector collapsing
According to UNFPA, only one in four health facilities in Khartoum are fully operational, with most damaged and only partially functioning, leaving millions of people without access to critical care.
The organization cautioned that dozens of attacks on hospitals, healthcare staff and ambulances, alongside widespread looting of already scarce medical supplies, water, fuel and electricity, are pushing the health sector to the brink of collapse.
“We have a severe lack of supplies in Khartoum, especially oxytocin and umbilical clips,” said Jamila, a midwife working in a UNFPA-supported health centre in Khartoum.
“Although services continue for the time being, we are praying for more supplies to arrive soon,” Jamila highlighted.
Blood, oxygen, and other medical necessities, such as fuel for ambulances, are also running dangerously low, UNFPA said. Despite the catastrophic circumstances, those hospitals and health centres still functioning – and standing – are proving to be a lifeline for pregnant women and new mothers.
Where access is jeopardized, community midwives and skilled birth attendants are supporting pregnant women to give birth in the safety of their homes. For women and girls, including the estimated 219,000 who are currently pregnant in Khartoum alone, not receiving essential health services could prove to be life threatening.
UNFPA has stressed that access to midwives is the single most important factor in stopping preventable maternal and newborn deaths.
It noted that some 24,000 women are expected to give birth in the coming weeks, in the throes of chaos and bloodshed, making it extremely hazardous for them to seek essential antenatal care, safe delivery services, or postnatal support.