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10 Minute Text


‘It’s Harrowing’: Top Médecins Sans Frontières official describes Sudan difficulties

May 1, 2023, 11:31am EDT

Avril Benoît, the head of Médecins Sans Frontières US, texts with me about the difficulties of working in Sudan, and the challenges to come.


Prashant Rao said:

Hi Avril, how’s it going?

Avril Benoit said:

Hi. All good. You?

Prashant Rao said:

I’m ok. Thanks for doing this.

Avril Benoit said:

Anytime.

Prashant Rao said:

We ask everyone we text with to send us a selfie. Can you send me one? Where are you at the moment?

Avril Benoit said:

Home in NY. Heading in to the office shortly.

Prashant Rao said:

Thank you!

Avril Benoit said:

Oof. My eyes look bloodshot. I’m jetlagged.

Prashant Rao said:

I imagine top of mind for you right now is the situation in Sudan — does MSF have staff there now, and what are they seeing?

Avril Benoit said:

Yes, we’re still there -- although we had to reposition some medical teams for safety reasons, and haven’t been able to continue all our medical activities. We’re still able to provide humanitarian assistance in several states and are making plans to boost our emergency interventions.

Prashant Rao said:

What are the greatest needs those teams are confronting? And how do you and they see the situation developing in the coming days in terms of health care needs and priorities?

Avril Benoit said:

What they’re seeing and what the needs are varies from place to place. We’ve had some serious setbacks. Pillaging of some stocks, attacks on hospitals and clinics. The urgent concern is treating the war wounded. In El Fasher, North Darfur State, the MSF supported hospital continues to receive large numbers of wounded people. The teams are working around the clock to treat the injured – 410 people have so far made it to the hospital for treatment, the only health facility operational in the city and around 55 conflict-related deaths have been recorded.

Prashant Rao said:

That is enormously stressful and distressing. What should or could ordinary people reading this be doing? And what do you hope people in positions of power outside of Sudan do now?

Avril Benoit said:

Yeah. It’s harrowing.  Our main call to the armed belligerents is to allow people safe passage for the sick and wounded to reach medical care if they need it. Respect the medical spaces including ambulances. And people must be allowed to reach safety away from the fighting. In the days and weeks ahead, we can expect more displaced people. More refugees fleeing across the borders. We’re thankful, in sudden crises like this, for the independent funding we receive from millions of individual supporters around the world. Private undesignated donations allow us to scale up rapidly, to pivot and to reach people when they need us most.

Prashant Rao said:

Thanks Avril — I’ve already gone over the “10 minutes”. I’m grateful for your time, and best of luck to you and your staff.

Avril Benoit said:

Thank you so much. Best to you.