Revolutionary 'Sudanese NHS' healthcare plan unveiled by protest-leading medics

Revolutionary 'Sudanese NHS' healthcare plan unveiled by protest-leading medics
Planning for a post-Bashir society, Sudanese doctors have unveiled their vision for a reformed healthcare system if an uprising against the president is successful.
5 min read
21 January, 2019
A Sudanese anti-government protest in London [Getty]

Sudanese doctors have unveiled their vision for a reformed healthcare system if the protest movement removes President al-Bashir, as medics and other professionals emerged among the leading catalysts of the uprising.

The Sudan's Doctors Syndicate (SDS) published excerpts of their radical reform plan for the health sector in a post on their official Facebook page on Sunday, and unveiled the full document (Arabic) on Monday.

The 11-page vision includes a three-phase plan covering the short, medium and long terms and assigns priorities for each phase. It covers all aspects of healthcare planning, including finding sources of funding a universal healthcare for all Sudanese citizens, gender-based healthcare and even modernising information systems to build a 21st century healthcare system.

Not shying away from politics, the introduction to the document says its aim is to " reassure the Sudanese people that a better tomorrow is possible, and that we are able to build a better future for our country and people after the end of this regime". 

The plan even calls for diverting funds from the army to fund healthcare services.

"Doctors are widely aware of the terrible shortages of medicines and adequate health care for the vast majority of a national budget informed by the priorities of medical personnel, spending on the military-security forces will be very substantially reduced, and commitments to health, education, and infrastructure will be greatly increased," Eric Reeves, a Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights and Sudan expert, told The New Arab.

"This would be one of the most important positive effects of regime change."

Sudanese medics have emerged as leading catalysts of the ongoing pro-democracy protest movement, playing a key role in organising and coordinating marches as well as tending to protesters wounded during the regime's bloody crackdown. 

With the healthcare plan, the healthcare workers have shown how they could shape the country's future. The SDS say the dismal state of healthcare across Sudan has left many households spending up to 75 percent of their income on medical care.

According to the WHO, "overall health indicators in Sudan are comparable to Sub-Saharan Africa averages" despite some improvements in recent years.

The SDS forms part of the Sudanese Professionals Associations (SPA), an umbrella of regime-banned groupings of doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and other professionals playing a major role in leading the protests. 

Alongside the Central Committee of Doctors and others, the SDS is one of a handful of spontaneous groupings for Sudanese doctors at home and in exile who emerged in the past two decades to organise their professional issues after the Bashir regime outlawed independent unions when it seized power in a coup in 1989.

Doctors played a major role in bringing down the previous regime with a general strike that paralysed hospitals in 1985 and have staged similar strikes in the following decades, Dr. Ahmed Mukhtar, a Sudanese doctor and activist based in Brussels, told The New Arab.

They have been mainly motivated by what they see as the regime's neglect of the healthcare sector that they experience firsthand, he added.

Read more: The Arab Spring lessons that the Sudanese may need to heed

The Sudanese protests began on December 19th in the north-eastern town of Atbara, triggered by the government's decision to increase the price of bread by about three times. They quickly spread to the capital and other major cities, with protests reported in Darfur, a bastion of support for the government. 

They have since become more organised as urban professionals joined the movement calling for the depature of President Bashir as the first step for solving the country's profound socio-economic problems.

They come with Sudan suffering from an economic crisis driven by an acute shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation that has more than doubled the price of food and medicine.

The protests have emerged as the biggest challenge yet to the authority of President Bashir, who swept to power in 1989 in an Islamist-backed coup.

Riot police and Sudan's feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) have led a sweeping crackdown on the protest movement that has seen several opposition leaders, activists, journalists and protesters jailed since the demonstrations erupted.

Dozens have also been killed, including a doctor on Thursday in Buri, a district of the capital Khartoum. On Friday, the BBC published a letter from the SDS saying the killing of the doctor has left doctors feeling they have now become a target for the authorities.

Dr. Mukhtar shared a list of 39 detained doctors held by the regime since the protests began, put together by the Sweden-based Sudanese Independent Movement.

"Doctors have been specifically targeted by the al-Bashir regime's security forces because they are assisting protesters, demonstrators who have been wounded or injured," Eric Reeves said.

"Their professional duties have made them political/security targets. The invasion of Omdurman hospital last week was a clear sign that medical personnel and hospital patients are targets if they are in any way perceived as working in concert with the demonstrations."

The government's tough response has sparked international criticism, with Amnesty International accusing the security forces of using violence against protesters.

The protests are ongoing. In a statement released on Sunday night, the SPA said that the security forces fired live bullets to disperse protesters in the city of Omdurman.

The SPA called for evening protests in a number of towns on Tuesday and large protests the whole country on Thursday.

With input from agencies