Najlaa Osman (pseudonym) is still struggling with how to get her baby the second dose of the vaccine, which is due in 12 days, in light of the difficulty of movement within the capital, Khartoum, the closure of most health centers and hospitals, and the absence of any sign of hope for the cessation of clashes between the army and the Rapid Support Forces.
She tells Raseef22 that she has been making numerous calls to her family members and acquaintances scattered across a number of neighborhoods to inquire about a medical center that provides vaccinations. She finally found the dose she needed at a center in Soba east of Khartoum, but she was unable to go there from her residence in Alsamrab due to the high cost of the trip.
She points out that small car drivers that provide transportation internally asked her for 450,000 Sudanese pounds ($750) for the round trip. She adds, "My husband works on a daily wage in building houses and does not have this kind of money."
The biggest danger facing Sudanese children now is the heavy military deployment in residential neighborhoods and childrens' attempts to play with unexploded shells that are being fired indiscriminately
An extremely critical situation
Fierce clashes broke out between the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces on April 15th, inside the capital Khartoum and other cities, before these violent clashes turned into a ethnically-based conflict in El Geneina city in West Darfur state, which led to the deaths of dozens and the flight of thousands, including Fatima.
Fatima's only child was receiving a treatment food diet from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to treat his severe malnutrition. This child is one of nearly 50,000 children at risk of death after the life-saving treatment was interrupted.
Fatima tells Raseef22, "We are now fleeing to save our lives, and only after we find safety, I will be able to think about my child's treatment."
Pediatric specialist Abdel Moneim Mohammed called on parents to protect their children and prevent them from touching unexploded shells. If the children are injured in the event the weapons explode, there is a high possibility they could die in light of the difficulty of doctors being able to access hospitals.
Mohammed explains to Raseef22 the dangers of not administering vaccinations to infants on time, and says that failing to do so makes the child more susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases, especially deadly ones such as measles, polio, and cholera.
The Preliminary Committee of the Doctors' Union reports that 70% of hospitals adjacent to conflict areas where the fighting is taking place in the capital Khartoum and other states have gone out of service, with 61 out of 86 basic hospitals no longer functioning, while the remaining hospitals (about 25) are only able to provide first aid.
15 hospitals have been shelled since the outbreak of the conflict on April 15, in addition to 19 hospitals being forcibly evacuated. With the added problem of inadequate medical supplies, staff shortages, and hospitals being affected by water and power outages and fuel shortages, the health system is on the brink of collapse, putting millions of children at risk of slow death in the absence of treatment.
Millions of Sudanese children have not received adequate vaccinations, exposing them to deadly diseases such as measles, polio, and cholera
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated in February 2023 that 4 million children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition, as well as pregnant and lactating women, need life-saving humanitarian nutrition services this year, with 611,000 of them facing severe acute malnutrition.
UNICEF, Save the Children, and the World Vision organization highlighted the risks facing children if the conflict continues, including deprivation of health care and the possibility of their exposure to further serious violations, including recruitment and use by armed groups and sexual violence.
In a joint statement, the three organizations said that the cold chain that keeps vaccines viable has been affected by constant cuts in power and fuel – putting at risk the lives of millions of children in a country where vaccination rates were already falling and where children face regular disease outbreaks.
"Millions of under-vaccinated or zero-dose children will miss out on life-saving vaccinations, exposing them to deadly diseases such as measles and polio," they added.
The mother has been trying to make calls to inquire about an open medical center that provides vaccinations for her baby. She finally found a center in Soba east of Khartoum, but was unable to get there due to the high cost of the trip (750$)
UNICEF's representative in Sudan, Mandeep O'Brien, says that children are bearing the brunt of the conflict. She says, "They are dying, and their futures are being taken away from them. The impacts of preventing vulnerable children from receiving health, protection and education services will last a lifetime. The fighting must stop so that we can urgently better reach all vulnerable children wherever they are.”
The Ministry of Health reported on March 14th that 38% of child deaths in Sudan are due to malnutrition, with 14% of them suffering from emaciation and 36% from stunting.
The statement from the three organizations mentioned that the closure of schools has forced millions of children out of their classrooms, leaving one girl out of every three girls, and one boy out of every four boys, unable to continue their education.
This exacerbates the existing education crises in the country, especially in terms of quality, where 70% of Sudanese children at the age of ten cannot read, in addition to 7 million school-age children who are not enrolled in schools. Sudan has been facing a problem of children dropping out of schools due to poverty, which forces families to rely on them for grazing and farming, or as workers in jobs that are not suitable for their age, such as in factories or carrying people's purchases in a small cart pushed by hand.
70% of hospitals adjacent to conflict areas in the capital and in other states have gone out of service, with 61 out of 86 basic hospitals no longer functioning, while the remaining hospitals (about 25) are only able to provide first aid
This situation has been exacerbated by the repeated closure of schools by the Sudanese Teachers Committee starting from January 8 of this year. The trade union body had been carrying out work strikes to increase education spending by 20% of the country's annual expenditure, in addition to raising their monthly salaries and other financial entitlements, given that the teacher's salary covers only 13% of basic living costs, according to what the committee says. There is no doubt that the continuation of the war will exacerbate the crises that children are experiencing, especially since 40.1% of the total population of 45.6 million people, according to government estimates in late 2021, represent the age group from one to 14 years.
Perhaps the greatest danger facing Sudanese children now is the heavy military deployment in residential neighborhoods and childrens' attempts to play with the unexploded shells that are being fired indiscriminately, in addition to the interruption of vaccines.
It does not appear that the parties to the conflict are ready to stop the fighting any time soon, at least not before one of them inflicts significant losses on the other that will lead to their defeat. Based on the mobilization and reinforcements that they are receiving from the states to Khartoum, this is unlikely to happen soon, which continues to exacerbate the suffering of millions of children, particularly in light of the lack of medical care and education.