For the past three weeks, Huwaida al-Hassan has been packing herself and two daughters into their car each morning for a short drive to the Albaan Aljadid Hospital in the Sudanese capital city, Khartoum.
The 52-year-old consultant obstetrician and her girls, 24-year-old dentist Waddaha and 22-year-old medical student Zainab, have been tending day and night to injured civilians and chronic patients that have flooded the hospital wards since clashes between warring parties in Sudan erupted on April 15.
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Despite repeated attempts at a ceasefire, heavy fighting between the Sudanese army and powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has continued, leaving more than 550 people dead and 4,926 others wounded. At least 60 percent of the capital’s healthcare facilities have also been rendered out of service because of the violence.
“For the first few days, I didn’t know whether it was day or night, or what day of the week it was,” recounted al-Hassan, as she spoke from the operating room ahead of a caesarian section to deliver a new baby.
With most hospitals and pharmacies shut, pregnant women have been unable to access healthcare facilities or medication to get the care they need to safely deliver their babies. Like many medics around Khartoum, al-Hassan has taken it upon herself to help those she can, taking in women with complicated pregnancies to deliver their babies through c-sections.
A critical shortage of equipment and medication, and even staff, at the hospital have left al-Hassan to deliver an average of five babies a day with little help or supplies.
“Most days, there isn’t an anaesthetist, proper sanitation, dependable electricity, or the right medication. I can only keep the mothers for up to 10 hours after a c-section to make space for new patients,” said al-Hassan.
In addition to delivering babies, with the help of her daughters and other medical staff, al-Hassan has been doing telephone consultations for pregnant women facing complications and tending to the injured and other chronic patients at the hospital.
“We are all doing various jobs, from treating patients outside of our specialties, to bringing food for the staff and patients, to cleaning up the wards and sanitising the equipment and scrubs,” said al-Hassan.
“Staff members literally collapse from exhaustion, sleeping in odd corners for a few minutes before getting up again,” she added.
Moments of hope
As the fighting continues and the flow of injured victims seems endless, al-Hassan has tried to focus on the positive moments.
She says that the delivery of every child has brought a sense of victory and continuity.
“In the midst of all the death around us and the sound of bombing and raids, families ululate with the arrival of every baby,” said al-Hassan. “It’s been our only way to stay strong and positive.”
One of the most poignant moments, said al-Hassan, was the day she went out to get bread for staff and patients, but ended up delivering a baby in a car.
“The mother couldn’t make it to a hospital, so we delivered the baby right there. She called him, Montasser [Victorious],” she said.
Still al-Hassan, who is also a member of the Sudanese Doctor’s Union, said she has been luckier than most of the medical staff at the hospital.
“I’ve managed to send my elderly mother out of Khartoum, and because I live near the hospital, I’ve been able to see my family and get a few hours of respite here and there,” she said, adding that most staff have not left the hospital for weeks.
Multiple hospitals in Sudan have been hit, humanitarian facilities looted and foreign aid groups forced to suspend most of their operations. About 100,000 people have fled Sudan to neighbouring countries, the United Nations has said, with more than 42,000 Sudanese crossing into Egypt along with 2,300 foreign nationals since the crisis began.
But al-Hassan, who gets into daily arguments with her husband about the topic, has insisted on staying behind.
“My husband is constantly asking me to leave, but all I can think about is my people and country,” said al-Hassan. “I will never leave either behind.”
She said that when he calls to check in on her and the girls, she does not answer her phone if there is heavy bombardment in the background to avoid worrying him further.
“We can’t cope with any more negativity,” said al-Hassan, as she showed videos of men, women and children covered in blood from injuries to their heads, necks, and torsos.
“I know he’s worried for our safety, but we have a duty, and we must keep going,” she said.