Sudan’s health minister says country needs $120 million to fight coronavirus

Sudan's Minister of Health Akram Ali Altom speaks during a Reuters interview amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Khartoum

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan urgently needs $120 million to fight the new coronavirus, the country’s health minister told Reuters on Saturday, amid a shortage of the equipment to fight the epidemic which has ravaged richer countries.

Although Sudan has so far reported relatively few cases, the global outbreak has arrived at a time when it faces an economic crisis.

“We are preparing a strategy to face coronavirus that extends until the end of June, but to execute it we urgently need $120 million to provide protective equipment for healthcare workers and to prepare healthcare facilities and advanced lab testing equipment,” said health minister Akram Ali Altom.

Altom serves in the civilian-led government which has run Sudan following a power-sharing agreement with the military signed in August. Exactly one year ago, months of protests brought down three-decade ruler Omar al-Bashir.

Until now, Sudan has reported 19 confirmed coronavirus cases, including two deaths, but Altom said that “if it spreads, Sudan’s situation health-wise and economically means it cannot handle a large outbreak.”

Current capacity for beds with ventilators was just in the “hundreds”, he said.

The coronavirus outbreak is the latest epidemic to face Sudan, which has had to deal with outbreaks of cholera with a depleted infrastructure.

Sudan began testing for those who arrived at its international airport in February. In March it closed all airports and border crossings to non-commercial traffic.

The government also imposed a twelve-hour curfew, shut down schools and universities, and banned events and gatherings. Some of its measures have been met with a lack of cooperation.

The minister said that his ministry has recommended a complete lockdown of the capital Khartoum for three weeks, as well as an increase in the number of quarantine centres and testing capacity.

A major barrier to any lockdown is likely to be the large number of Sudanese people who work in the informal economy.

The minister said that he expected that a new health emergency law would be introduced on Sunday.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, writing by Nafisa Eltahir, editing by Ulf Laessing and James Drummond)

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