“One of the fighting parties” seized control of Khartoum’s central public health laboratory and “expelled all technical staff”.
One side to the conflict in Sudan has taken control of a state health laboratory in the capital Khartoum that holds biological material, UN officials said, calling it an “extremely dangerous” development.
The announcement on Tuesday came as officials warned that more refugees could flee Sudan despite a ceasefire between rival forces.
The fighting has thrown Sudan into chaos, pushing the African country already heavily reliant on aid to the brink of collapse. Before the conflict, the United Nations estimated that one-third of Sudan’s population — about 16 million people — needed aid, and that number was likely to rise.
Dr Nima Saeed Abid, WHO representative in Sudan, expressed concern that “one of the belligerent parties” – he did not identify which – had taken control of the central public health laboratory in Khartoum and had “expelled all technical personnel”.
“That’s extremely, extremely dangerous because we have polio isolates in our lab. We have measles isolates in our lab. We have cholera isolates in our lab,” he said by video call from Port Sudan in Geneva. said at a UN briefing. “There is a huge biological risk in one of the combatants taking over the central public health laboratory in Khartoum.”
The expulsion of technicians and power outages in Khartoum meant there was “a failure to properly manage biological material stored in laboratories for medical purposes,” the WHO said.
The lab is located in central Khartoum, close to flashpoints of fighting between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group that grew out of the government-backed People’s Defense Forces – known by rebels as “the The Janjaweed” – atrocities in the conflict with Darfur.
Dozens of hospitals in Khartoum and elsewhere across the country have been closed due to fighting and reduced medical and fuel supplies, according to the Sudanese Doctors Federation.
“If the violence does not stop, the health system risks collapsing,” the UN agency warned on Friday.