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25 Apr, 2023 14:09

Biohazard risk in Sudan as warring faction seizes lab – WHO

Technicians have been denied entry to a facility where samples of diseases are stored, according to an official
Biohazard risk in Sudan as warring faction seizes lab – WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned of a potential biological hazard in Sudan on Tuesday, describing an armed faction’s seizure of a laboratory holding samples of pathogens including polio and measles as an “extremely dangerous” situation.

There is a huge biological risk associated with the occupation of the central public health lab... by one of the fighting parties,” Nima Saeed Abid, WHO representative in Sudan, told reporters in Geneva via video link. He said technicians have been thrown out with “no accessibility” to the lab, and no way to “safely contain the biological material and substances available.

Nima said at least 459 people have been killed and 4,072 injured in the fighting that broke out on April 15 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The country’s capital, Khartoum, and nearby towns have been gripped by nearly two weeks of intense bombardment, causing severe food, water, medicine, and fuel shortages. Doctors Without Borders’ Operational Manager for Sudan, Abdalla Hussein, told RT on Friday that hospitals in Khartoum and surrounding cities have closed due to “heavy shelling.

According to the Sudanese Doctors Union, 13 hospitals have been bombed and 19 have been forced to evacuate, six ambulances have been attacked by military forces, and others have been denied passage to transport patients and receive aid since the conflict began.

The International Organization for Migration and the World Food Programme suspended their operations in Sudan after some of their employees were killed in the fighting. “In areas where intense fighting has hampered our humanitarian operations, we have been forced to reduce our footprint,” Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office, said on Tuesday.

Over the past few days, tens of thousands of civilians – Sudanese and foreign nationals – are said to have fled to Egypt, Chad, and South Sudan. Laura Lo Castro, the UN refugee agency’s representative in Chad, stated that around 20,000 refugees have already arrived in the Central African nation, with up to 100,000 expected in the “worst-case scenario.”

Following unsuccessful attempts to establish a truce last week, the rival factions have now agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire beginning on Tuesday. Despite the deal, Al Jazeera has reported that intense fighting persists near the presidential palace in the northern part of the capital, and new clashes have erupted in the West Darfur city of Geneina.