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Khartoum: Lack of essential visas for MSF staff threatens life-saving care in hospital
Without visas being urgently granted by the Sudanese authorities, MSF may soon be forced to withdraw its support to the Turkish Hospital in Khartoum.
Visa applications for emergency staff – including surgeons, nurses, and other specialists – have been pending for more than eight weeks.
The visas of many of the staff currently running the hospital are close to expiring, which means that this team will have to leave the country. As a result, MSF’s support to the Ministry of Health in the facility – which is one of the few hospitals in the whole of Khartoum that is providing round-the-clock care – will soon have to end.
“The MSF team who are currently present inside the hospital have worked tirelessly with our partners in the Ministry of Health for more than two months to keep the facility open – and to expand the services it provides. They have stayed even in the wake of a serious incident in which our team suffered an assault, death threats, and theft,” said Claire Nicolet, MSF’s emergencies manager for Sudan. “Despite our commitment to continue working in this hospital, the life-saving care our team are providing is now threatened by our inability to bring new staff into the country.
“The security situation and lack of fuel in Khartoum mean that every day brings a new challenge for our staff – on top of the daily challenge of keeping our patients alive. We need to be able to regularly replace our staff to keep meeting these challenges and providing life-saving care. We have a team on standby, ready to go – but without visas they cannot move.
“Seven visas are critically required to replace our team in the Turkish Hospital. In addition to granting the visas we have already applied for, we are also appealing to the Sudanese authorities to put in place transparent processes for visa approval that will allow us to regularly replace our staff in the country.
“If we cannot bring in new staff, we will be forced to withdraw from the hospital. This will have a devastating impact on the people who remain in Khartoum who will need life-saving health care over the coming months.”
In the six weeks from mid-June to the end of July, MSF treated more than 3,800 patients in the Turkish Hospital, this included over 1,700 consultations in its emergency room – 20% of which were war wounded patients. In the same period, the hospital treated close to 800 people needing inpatient care, including more than 200 children. The majority of these paediatric cases have been neonates suffering from sepsis, jaundice and malnutrition. Maternal health care is also a key service provided in this hospital – as is treatment for chronic diseases.
Since the beginning of the crisis in April the Sudanese authorities have centralised the granting of visas in Port Sudan and stopped granting residency visas, meaning visas are given for only two months, with the possibility to extend for one additional month if the person is able to go to Port Sudan – a challenge given the security conditions in parts of the country where we are working such as Darfur and Khartoum. Only one batch of seven visas has been granted since April for our team working in the Turkish Hospital in Khartoum. Visas for other MSF projects in the country have also been infrequently granted, and a more predictable process and higher numbers of visas are needed if MSF’s response to the huge needs in the country is to be maintained and expanded.
MSF has been responding to the crisis since it began in April and is currently working in 12 states: Khartoum, Kassala, Al-Jazeera, West Darfur, North Darfur, Central Darfur, South Darfur, Red Sea, El-Gedaref, Blue Nile, River Nile, and White Nile States. In Khartoum, in addition to the Turkish Hospital, MSF is providing surgical care to the war wounded in Bashair Hospital, working in Al Nao hospital in Omdurman, northwest Khartoum, as well as supporting other facilities in Khartoum. MSF currently has sufficient staff to maintain its activities in these other hospitals in Khartoum, but since the start of the conflict the need to rotate new staff in has been a recurring problem due to the ongoing difficulty in obtaining visas.