After being carried for three kilometres through the rain and mud, Nasreen Faroug Balla finally reached the hospital. She was eight months pregnant – and going into labour. The rainy season had arrived a month earlier in July, flooding many parts of Gedaref state in eastern Sudan. Some 350,000 people were affected and hundreds of villages were cut off from assistance or basic services.
Although with difficulty and in treacherous conditions, Nasreen was able to access the nearby UNFPA field hospital located in the Tunaydbah settlement for Ethiopian refugees. But in the delivery room, her blood pressure rose dramatically and she lost consciousness. Nasreen was suffering from pre-eclampsia, a serious blood pressure condition that can develop during pregnancy, and was in critical condition.
The doctors decided that an emergency Caesarean section was urgently needed. She was taken into the operating room, where she gave birth to a baby boy, Semir. Born prematurely and weighing just 1.8 kilograms, he was placed in an intensive care incubator and monitored closely for 10 days.
“This field hospital saved my daughter’s life. Without it, we would have carried her for hours more. I do not think she would have survived,” said Nasreen’s mother.
Saving the lives of mothers and newborns
Since the onset of the Ethiopian refugee emergency in Sudan in November 2020, UNFPA has been providing life-saving reproductive health support to vulnerable host and refugee populations in Gedaref state.
There are currently more than 3.7 million internally displaced persons in the country and around 1.15 million refugees – among whom an estimated 52,000 Ethiopians have fled violence and persecution and are seeking refuge in eastern Sudan.
A collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency and international NGO Alight, the UNFPA field hospital opened its doors in March 2022 to serve both host and refugee communities. In its first six months of operation, the hospital assisted over 40,000 patients and ensured more than 130 safe births.
The field hospital guarantees access to essential health services during the annual rainy season, when the whole of the Mafaza locality, where Tunaybah refugee camp is located, and parts of the neighbouring Al Fao become completely cut off from other parts of Gedaref.
Mohamed Lemine, UNFPA Representative in Sudan, said “Nasreen is one of the thousands of women in Sudan who struggle to access health facilities, especially during the rainy season. Sadly, many arrive too late.”
Support urgently needed
In 2023, a total of 15.8 million people – almost one-third of Sudan’s population – are estimated to need humanitarian assistance. The highest number in a decade, the crisis is being driven overwhelmingly by conflict, repeated climate crises, escalating hunger levels, economic deterioration and disease outbreaks. Ongoing insecurity and violence in various parts of the country are hampering humanitarian response and drastically undermining national capacities to respond to rising needs.
UNFPA and partners are working with mobile clinics, midwives and health facilities across Sudan to ensure that every woman receives proper maternal health care. Ahead of the rainy season, life-saving sexual reproductive health supplies – including delivery kits and emergency obstetric supplies – were in place across the country to cover the needs of more than 100,000 people.
In 2021, UNFPA supported more than 90 health facilities with emergency obstetric care in Sudan and assisted nearly 125,000 safe deliveries. Funding from the United States was key to establishing and operating the field hospital in Tunaydbah, but more support is urgently needed to allow it to keep running.
With just over one-third of our humanitarian appeal for Sudan funded in 2022, UNFPA is asking for $62 million to sustain operations in Sudan in 2023 so that women like Nasreen continue to have access to critical health care.