by Debra Heine
A potential “germ bomb” of polio, measles and cholera pathogens is now in the hands of Sudanese fighters after they seized the National Public Health Laboratory in the nation’s capital Khartoum, according to reports. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization warned that the situation posed a “huge biological risk.”
“This is the main concern: no accessibility to the lab technicians to go to the lab and safely contain the biological material and substances available,” said Nima Saeed Abidhe, the WHO’s representative in Sudan.
Hostilities between the Sudanese armed forces and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitaries began on April 15, reportedly leaving at least 459 people dead and another 4,072 wounded.
Abidhe, who spoke to reporters in Geneva remotely from Sudan, described the lab seizure as “extremely dangerous because we have polio isolates in the lab, we have measles isolates in the lab, we have cholera isolates in the lab.”
“There is a huge biological risk associated with the occupation of the central public health lab in Khartoum by one of the fighting parties,” he added.
He declined to specify which side had seized the facility, however, CNN cited a source that said the lab had been taken over by RSF forces. A medical source told CNN that “a rapid international intervention” was required to prevent armed confrontations around the lab that could turn it into a “germ bomb.”
The WHO said in a statement to CNN that “trained laboratory technicians no longer have access to the laboratory” and that the facility had suffered power cuts, meaning “it is not possible to properly manage the biological materials that are stored in the laboratory for medical purposes.”
The power cuts also mean there is a risk of spoilage of depleting stocks of blood bags, according to the director-general of the laboratory. The medical source told CNN that “the danger lies in the outbreak of any armed confrontation in the laboratory because that will turn the laboratory into a germ bomb.”
“An urgent and rapid international intervention is required to restore electricity and secure the laboratory from any armed confrontation because we are facing a real biological danger,” the source added.
The clashes have paralyzed hospitals and other essential services, and left many stranded in their homes with dwindling supplies of food and water. The WHO has reported 14 attacks on health facilities since the clashes began and is relocating its staff to safety.
Since the fighting broke out, multiple countries have scrambled to evacuate their citizens, CNN reported.
Saudi Arabia rescued 10 Saudi nationals and 189 foreigners including Americans from Port Sudan, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a written statement on its official Twitter account on Monday.
South Korea and Japan were the latest nations to confirm new evacuations of their citizens on Tuesday.
Several countries have already successfully carried out evacuations, including “Spain, Jordan, Italy, France, Denmark and Germany, while the United Kingdom has reportedly only evacuated embassy staff.
All US government employees were reportedly evacuated from Khartoum and the US embassy was “temporarily” closed over the weekend.
An estimated 16,000 American citizens remain in Sudan, most of whom are dual nationals, according to officials.
Now that the U.S. does not have a diplomatic presence in Sudan to help with evacuations, Americans who wish to depart have been advised to “shelter in place.
“It’s more dangerous today than it was just yesterday, the day before, and so, the best advice we can give to those Americans who did not abide by our warnings to leave Sudan and not to travel to Sudan is to stay sheltered in place,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told CNN.
Americans who are trapped in the war-torn country pushed back on Kirby’s claims, telling CNN they were not asked to leave the country.
Rebecca Winter, whose sister and 18-month-old niece are in Sudan, told CNN that they are in an “awful holding pattern” because her sister “has been told by both the US embassy and the international school that she works for that she has to shelter in place, and that she should not accept any offers for private evacuation.”
“So she is just stuck waiting right now in fear,” she said.
Although the US State Department warned Americans against traveling to Sudan, Winter said that according to her sister, “US employees there were not asked to leave the country.”
Fatima Elsheikh, whose two brothers are in Sudan, also pushed back on the claim that US citizens who were already on the ground were warned before the outbreak of violence.
“It makes me upset, because there was no warning. I don’t, I think it’s being painted as a country that’s been war-torn for a while, which isn’t true. This is unprecedented, what’s happening,” Elsheikh said.
Two American citizens have been confirmed dead in Sudan since the hostilities began.
– – –
Debra Heine reports for American Greatness.
Photo “People from Sudan” by anmede. CC BY-SA 2.0.