Sudan faces second COVID-19 wave amid drug shortages and doctors’ strike

Khartoum Teaching Hospital, Khartoum, Sudan. Photo by Petr Adam Dohnálek via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 CZ

November was a bitter month in Sudan as citizens faced a second COVID-19 wave that left several well-known figures dead due to the virus. A pharmaceutical shortage and doctors’ strike demanding better working conditions is compounding the crisis.

Since November 1, cases of the coronavirus began to increase, with 4,006 new positive cases in November, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 17,810 by  November 30. The death toll rose to 1,249. There were 6,259 active cases by the end of November, compared to October, with only 146 confirmed cases.

The Ministry of Health announced several measures to avoid any possibility of lockdown that could throw Sudan’s fragile economy into a further downward spiral.

Precautions include enforcing corporate and governmental officials to provide personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer and to work at 50 percent capacity in order to practice social distancing. Measures also include the provision of paid leave for those who are older than 55, because they are at higher risk for contracting the virus. The government also directed universities and higher institutes to suspend studies if one positive case is registered with students or employees.

Dr. Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister of Sudan, said in an interview with Sudan national satellite TV: “The Sudanese government does not seek to impose a second lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, although the second wave of the corona[virus] pandemic is more severe in Sudan than the first.”

Sudan has lost many citizens to the virus such as Imam Sadiq al-Madi, who died on November 26, after suffering due to complications from the virus. Sadiq was the last elected prime minister of Sudan, before the 1989 coup that put Omar al-Bashir in power for 30 years. An official military funeral was held to honor this former supreme commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces, and an official period of mourning was announced for 3 days.

Sudanese officials received many condolence messages from around the world. The British ambassador in Sudan said:

Also, several professors and academics have died due to COVID-19. Sudan lost Qassim Osman Nour, a professor of library science and documentation at the University of Khartoum. The Prime Minister’s Office mourned him on Twitter.

Doctors’ strike

Resident doctors in Sudan have been on strike since November 4.

They demand permanent jobs with the Sudanese Board of Medical Specialties, who currently recognize residents as “trainees” until they complete official training as specialists. The training program is split into two paths: Some start their training upon paying a fee, skipping a long waiting list, and working two years for free. Others wait indefinite periods until called by the council to begin a paid training period. Despite this waiting process, the stipend for paid training is less than $10 United States dollars per month.

The strike covered 64 hospitals and health centers around Sudan, according to the resident doctors on strike.

After many days on strike, the resident doctors agreed to a full withdrawal from medical services, including emergency cases. As a result, a moving story about a woman whose uterus burst, according to many news agencies, circulated all over Sudanese social media, calling attention to the consequences of the strike: there were not enough doctors to serve patients in critical conditions.

Mutwali, a Sudanese netizen, commented on this issue saying:

“The number of victims of factional strikes is possible ‘at some point’ more than the number of victims of Rapid Support Forces.”

The Minister of Health called the doctors’ strike during a public health emergency “immoral”:

 “The doctor’s complete strike on emergency work is unprofessional and immoral.”

Two days into the strike, the office of the Prime Minister said they welcomed an agreement made with the strike committee but didn’t mention the details. As of December 7, the strike committee has not made a comment on this announcement — which produced many questions from citizens.

Drug shortage

Global Voices has previously reported on the pharmaceutical crisis in Sudan. Now, the crisis has been aggravated due to the second wave of the coronavirus in Sudan.

A major shortage of life-saving medications and oxygen threatens the lives of everyday citizens, who often have to travel from one pharmacy to another to find necessary drugs.

On Sudanese social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, timelines fill with requests from people in search of various types of drugs that are difficult to secure.

Below are some examples:

“Where can I find these pills in Khartoum?”

“I’m asking, where can I find the pills, this is very necessary, my aunt needs them. Retweet please, we must find them for her.”

In response, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osama Ahmed Abdel-Rahim, announced the state's commitment to fund drugs at a value of USD 60 million, as a first step toward stabilizing the drug shortage in Sudan. However, this only covers 60 percent of the total value of needed drugs in Sudan. The Sudanese people hope this commitment toward stability will halt the uptick in deaths due to the coronavirus and other illnesses.

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