"A huge biological risk." It is with these words that the World Health Organization (WHO) denounces Tuesday the occupation by the belligerents of a laboratory in the capital of Sudan where samples of highly contagious pathogens are located.
"I received a phone call yesterday from the head of the central public health laboratory. It is occupied by one of the fighting parties," WHO Representative in Sudan Dr Nima Saeed Abid told a news briefing in Geneva via videoconference. He did not specify whether it was the army of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane or the paramilitaries of General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who concluded a 72-hour truce under the auspices of the United States, generally respected Tuesday in Khartoum.
"They drove all the technicians out of the laboratory, which is now completely under the control of one of the fighting parties," which is using it as a military base, Dr. Nima Saeed Abid added.
Samples of measles, cholera and polio
He stressed that the situation is "extremely dangerous" because this national laboratory contains samples of measles, cholera and polio pathogens. This occupation therefore presents an "enormous biological risk", he insisted. Cholera is an acute diarrhoeal disease, which can die within hours if left untreated. Measles is a highly contagious viral disease, as is poliomyelitis, which largely affects children under 5 years of age.
WHO has so far verified 14 attacks on the health sector in Sudan, resulting in 8 deaths and 2 injuries. Supplies of blood bags are running out in the country and the lack of generators poses very high biological risks, in addition to "chemical risks", she also said.
The clashes that broke out in mid-April have already left 459 dead and 4,072 wounded, according to the WHO, which said it had not been able to verify these figures from the Ministry of Health. Up to 270,000 people could flee from Sudan to Chad and South Sudan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. According to Laura lo Castro, UNHCR's representative in Chad, 20,000 refugees have arrived in the country. "We expect up to 100,000 refugees in the worst case," she said during the press briefing, by videoconference.
"In South Sudan, the most likely scenario is 125,000 returns of South Sudanese refugees and 45,000 refugees," UNHCR's representative in the country, Marie-Hélène Verney, also said online. To date, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of nearly 4,000 South Sudanese from Sudan, mainly via the Renk border crossing in Upper Nile State. Some 15.8 million people, about a third of Sudan's population, were in need of humanitarian assistance before the fighting broke out.