Occupied laboratory in Sudan: “a huge biological risk”, according to the WHO

An "enormous biological risk"

Occupied laboratory in Sudan: “a huge biological risk”, according to the WHO

An "enormous biological risk". After the sudden seizure of a laboratory by one of the two fighting parties in Khartoum, the World Health Organization (WHO) is carrying out a health risk assessment, the UN agency said on Wednesday April 26. Especially since, according to experts, the laboratory houses several samples of highly contagious pathogens, such as measles. As of Tuesday, the WHO had alerted "of the enormous biological risk" and had said it was "concerned by the occupation of the central public health laboratory by one of the parties to the conflict", according to the director general of this specialized UN agency. , Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during a press conference in Geneva.

“Technicians no longer have access to the lab, which means the lab is no longer able to perform its normal diagnostic and referral function. We are also concerned that people occupying the lab could be accidentally exposed to the pathogens stored there,” he said. The WHO is seeking more information and is "conducting a risk assessment", Dr Tedros said.

Alongside him, Dr. Michael Ryan, Health Emergencies Program Manager, clarified that "the team on the ground, along with our biohazard and biosecurity teams, are doing" this "thorough risk assessment".

Sudan's Central Medical Laboratories Committee confirmed on Wednesday that "the National Health Laboratory and Blood Bank have been evacuated and strategic blood stocks have been transferred to other provinces." "Targeting them could lead to a health and environmental catastrophe with unimaginable consequences," the committee said in a statement. Neither the WHO nor the Central Laboratory Committee has specified whether General Abdell Fattah al-Burhane's army or General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo's paramilitaries occupy the laboratory.

According to the WHO, this laboratory contained samples of the pathogens of measles, cholera and poliomyelitis. Dr Olivier le Poulain, one of the leaders of the WHO response to the Sudanese crisis, explained to journalists on Wednesday that there were also samples of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for Covid-19) and tuberculosis, especially multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.

The capture of this laboratory is not the only health risk that Sudan currently faces. "At present, the main danger to the health and well-being of the Sudanese population is the lack of access to drinking water and food, and the risk of being injured by weapons, tanks and other weapons that are used indiscriminately in civilian areas,” Dr. Ryan observed. In Khartoum, Dr. Tedros noted, 61% of health facilities are closed and only 16% are functioning normally. "Many patients with chronic diseases, such as kidney disease, diabetes and cancer, do not have access to health facilities or the medications they need," he said.

Deadly fighting in Sudan has already claimed hundreds of lives. Dr Tedros pointed out that the WHO expects that there will be - in addition to those killed during the clashes - "many more deaths caused by epidemics, lack of access to food and water, disruption of health services, including immunization". The WHO has stocks of essential drugs, blood bags and surgical equipment, but the organization says it needs better security conditions to be able to transport them.