Death surge in North Darfur raises fear of COVID-19 spread

by Maruf Adedeji
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Humanitarian workers and medical personnel in North Darfur, Sudan, have raised concern over the astonishing rate at which the elderly are dying during the past weeks.

The death toll report is coming from the sprawling refugee camps of Darfur where coronavirus is spreading unchecked and untracked.

Some residents in the North Darfur’s provincial capital El-Fasher said medical facilities were limited and far between, as they scroll through a dozen of death announcements each day.

Doctors in the Sudan’s most marginalised territory El-Fasher sad there were a few functioning hospitals with an influx of patients with COVID-19 related symptoms like loss of taste, breathing difficulties and fevers. They, however, added that the official cause of the strange deaths remains “unknown”.

Darfur’ capital El-Fasher with the population of 1.6 million people hosts congested refugee camps.

Cases from the coronavirus pandemic have hit 6,879 with 433 deaths across Sudan, according to the Health Ministry. Darfur alone has recorded 193 cases and 54 fatalities – figures experts believe is a vast undercount.

Public health officials had earlier warned that coronavirus pandemic would take a disastrous toll on the world’s most vulnerable regions, especially refugee camps, where measures to curb the pandemic might prove impossible.

Darfur, with a population of 9 million people, has only 600 health facilities, amounting to one to 15,000 people.

Sudan’s health care system is in disarray after years of war and sanctions. Acute shortages of protective equipment and staff nationwide prompted strikes by medical walkers as infections rise in their ranks.

Drastic undersupply of drugs and hard currency forces the sick to purchase essential medicine out of pocket. Lack of fuel has also made it increasingly difficult for doctors and patients to reach hospitals.

Some health experts have linked the increasing fatalities in North Darfur to COVID-19, though not exclusively.

A radiology doctor Dr Abdullah Adam said he recorded 47 deaths of people the previous month in villages around Kabkabiya, near El-Fasher.

“I documented 70 deaths last week,” Gamal Abdulkarim Abdullah, director of Zam Zam camp said.

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