Every morning for the past three weeks, Huwaida al-Hassan has packed herself and two daughters into their car for a short drive to Alban Aljadid Hospital in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
The 52-year-old midwife consultant and her girls, 24-year-old dentist Waddaha and 22-year-old medical student Zainab, have cared day and night for wounded civilians and chronic patients who have flooded hospital wards since clashes between warring factions broke out in Sudan on April 15.
Despite repeated attempts at a ceasefire, heavy fighting between the Sudanese army and the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) continues, leaving more than 550 people dead and 4,926 others wounded. At least 60 percent of health care facilities in the capital have also been shut down due to the violence.
“For the first few days, I didn’t know if it was day or night, or what day of the week it was,” al-Hassan recounted, speaking from the operating room for a cesarean section to deliver another delivery. Baby.
With most hospitals and pharmacies closed, pregnant women cannot access healthcare facilities or medicines to get the care they need to deliver their babies safely. Like many medics in Khartoum, al-Hassan has taken it upon herself to help those she can, taking women with complicated pregnancies to deliver their babies by caesarean section.
A critical shortage of equipment and medication, and even staff, at the hospital has left Al-Hassan to deliver an average of five babies a day with little help or supplies.
“Most days there is no anesthesiologist, proper sanitation, reliable electricity or the right medication. I can keep the mothers for up to 10 hours after a cesarean section to make room for new patients,” al-Hassan said.
In addition to delivering babies, al-Hassan, with the help of her daughters and other medical staff, conducted telephone consultations for pregnant women facing complications and cared for the injured and other chronic patients in the hospital.
“We all do different tasks, from treating patients outside of our specialties, to bringing food for staff and patients, to cleaning the wards and sanitizing the equipment and scrubs,” al-Hassan said.
“Staffs literally collapse from exhaustion, sleeping in odd corners for a few minutes before getting back up,” she added.
Moments of hope
As the fighting continues and the stream of casualties seems endless, al-Hassan has tried to focus on the positives.
She says giving birth to each child has brought a sense of victory and continuity.
“In the midst of all the deaths around us and the sound of bombings and raids, families are jubilant with the arrival of each baby,” al-Hassan said. “It’s been our only way to stay strong and positive.”
One of the most poignant moments, al-Hassan said, was the day she went to get bread for staff and patients, but ended up giving birth to a baby in a car.
“The mother couldn’t make it to the hospital, so we delivered the baby 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 managed to send my elderly mother from Khartoum, and because I live near the hospital, I’ve been able to see my family and get a few hours of rest here and there,” she said, adding that the most employees did not leave the hospital for weeks.
Several hospitals in Sudan have been hit, humanitarian facilities have been looted and foreign aid organizations have largely had to suspend their operations. About 100,000 people have fled Sudan for neighboring countries, the United Nations said, with more than 42,000 Sudanese making the crossing to Egypt along with 2,300 foreigners since the crisis began.
But al-Hassan, who argues daily with her husband over the subject, insists on staying behind.
“My husband is constantly asking me to leave, but all I can think about is my people and country,” al-Hassan said. “I will leave neither.”
She said that when he calls to check on her and the girls, she doesn’t answer her phone if there is a heavy bombing going on in the background to avoid further worrying him.
“We can’t take any more negativity,” al-Hassan said, showing videos of men, women and children covered in blood from injuries to their heads, necks and torsos.
“I know he is concerned for our safety, but we have a duty and we must continue,” she said.