Sudanese American Physicians Association
A doctor, hailed as a mentor, is said to have been stabbed to death while taking his father for dialysis. Another doctor, after days of dealing with the medical crisis in Khartoum, decides he must flee to a safer city.
These are just some of the gruesome consequences of the 11-day war in Sudan.
NPR spoke with Dr. Mohamed Eisa after he 11 hour journey. He shared his perspective on how life has turned out – and about his friend Dr. Bushra Sulieman, who like Eisa is a gastroenterologist.
“I told him that people were dying on the streets here and we would have served this country better if we were still alive,” Eisa recalls. “But Bushra said, ‘I don’t want to leave, that’s why I came back here from America in the first place.’ “
The untimely return of Dr. Eisa
On April 12, Dr. Mohamed Eisa, a gastroenterologist from Pittsburgh, flew to Sudan after his father passed away. Three days later, an explosion rocked his family’s home in the capital Khartoum, signaling the beginning of chaos between the military forces that claimed the lives of more than 500 people and injured more than 4,000. .
“We sheltered for ten days, barely able to sleep, sheltered under the bed worried that missiles might fall into the house and listened to the constant gunfire and air raids,” Eisa said.
Eisa is also the general secretary of Sudanese American Physicians Association (SAPA), a nonprofit association founded in 2019 to build links between Sudanese doctors in the United States and support healthcare facilities in Sudan. It is currently trying to support besieged hospitals in the current state of violence.
He described the health situation in Khartoum as “catastrophic” – with planned procedures canceled and doctors fearing for their lives. Some hospitals Was attacked in the capital, which had borne the brunt of the fighting, and was rapidly running out of supplies.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that only 16% of medical facilities in Khartoum are operating normallywith 24,000 pregnant women unable to access maternal care.
Eisa says his organization is updating the list of pharmacies across the city that are operating at sporadic and secret hours of the day, to avoid looting.
“I personally know people who have had medical emergencies like chest pain or hypoglycemia and diabetic coma because they can’t find a hospital to take them to,” says Eisa.
“My colleague was forced to put a patient off the ventilator because the electricity was cut off and there was no gas to run the generator,” he recalls. “They continue to use Ambu bags manually [a device to manually pump air into someone’s lungs], taking turns between him and the nurses for 24 hours. They were hoping for a miracle. Then they have to stop.” The patient died, he said.
On Friday, the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF) agreed to extend the ceasefire for 72 more hours. Despite the pause, heavy fighting was reported in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur. The true death toll could be much higher as civilians struggle to find medical facilities.
Violent clashes also occurred reporting in the city of Omdurman, adjacent to the capital, where Eisa said SAPA runs a hospital that provides pediatric care.
“One day, we received five babies who had been transferred from facilities that had been shut down. A couple of parents searched for an incubator for their sick infant for three days. When they reached the hospital hospital, it’s too late.”
charity organization Médecins Sans Frontières said on Thursday that they had managed to supply three medical facilities in Khartoum despite being shelled.
One doctor killed, ‘a country dead’
On April 25, tragedy struck Eisa personally when his close friend and colleague, Dr. Bushra Sulieman, was killed. Sulieman regularly travels to the United States to see family and perform surgery but returned to Sudan many years ago to help train doctors. He teaches at the medical faculty of Khartoum University and is director at Sudan American Medical Association (SAMA).
“It was a sad day for Sudan due to his impact on the medical profession. His death was a watershed. Not that Bushra died, but an entire nation died.”
Eisa says that when the war broke out, Sulieman was transferring his father from different hospitals for hemodialysis. Eisa told Sulieman that he was heading to Port Sudan, an eastern city on the Red Sea where evacuation ships to Saudi Arabia departed, and he should do the same.
“I finally convinced him to leave Khartoum to a safe place. He was getting ready when he was attacked,” Eisa said.
Sulieman was killed outside his home while taking his father to a date. SAPA members say it is believed that Sulieman was stabbed to death during a robbery amid the mayhem. White House national security spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday confirmed that two Americans have died in the violence since April 15. Sulieman may have been one of the dead, although he has not been named.
Run away from violence
Meanwhile, Eisa must embark on a perilous journey to escape the city with dozens of her family members.
“The van driver wouldn’t come our way because we live in one of the hot areas near the airport road so the night before we had to sneak between the side streets to get to another neighborhood.”
Although the distance to Port Sudan is nearly 600 miles, Eisa says the hardest part was getting out of Khartoum amid constant bombardment.
“The drive to the bus station only took 45 minutes, but it was the longest trip of my life. We passed many checkpoints guarded by RSF soldiers and were stopped and searched many times. We we never know what could happen – will they open fire Will the military fire missiles at them When we get to the bus stop we see dead bodies on the street and in cars civilians surrounded by unexploded rockets.”
After leaving Khartoum, Eisa said the journey was relatively easy.
AKM Musha is also evacuating at the same time. He is the country director of the international non-profit group Concern around the world, and his team arrived in Port Sudan on April 24 after joining a United Nations convoy leaving Khartoum.
“We have 80 vehicles of eight or nine hundred people,” he told NPR. “It took 34 hours over 900 km [about 600 miles]. The convoy had to stop many times due to security checks, checkpoints, refueling, flat tires and other logistical work. When a car stops, everyone has to stop. It’s painful and difficult, especially for children.”
Musha says his organization’s international staff have left the country but are providing support from afar, hoping to return when hostilities end.
“Sixteen million people in Sudan depended on humanitarian assistance before the war,” he said. “Now that need has increased. What about the people we’re leaving behind?”
Meanwhile, Eisa is waiting for an evacuation ship to arrive at the Saudi port of Jeddah and plans to return to her family in Pittsburgh. He is relieved to be in the relative safety of Port Sudan but is wary of the deteriorating humanitarian situation as supplies dry up as more and more internally displaced Sudanese arrive.
“The situation is a mess. Thousands of people are lying on the streets, children are everywhere, it’s a very sad picture. There are no commercial ships docked and the people of Port Sudan are starting to worry about this. That’s it. Prices are going up. People are looking for food, water and shelter. Even if they don’t see the bullets, they’re looking at an economic crisis.”
Andrew Connelly is a British freelance journalist focusing on politics, migration and conflict.