Sudan’s already troubled health sector faces the risk of “disaster” after more than two weeks of heavy fighting have rocked the poverty-stricken country, a UN World Health Organization official warns. Even before the deadly conflict broke out on April 15, “the healthcare system in Sudan faced numerous crises… and was extremely fragile,” Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, told AFP. Now — with hospitals bombed, medicines running low and many doctors fleeing the country — “it is a disaster in every sense of the word,” he said, warning of the growing threat of cholera, malaria and other diseases. The battles raging in Sudan have pitted the Sudanese Armed Forces led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan against the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces of his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. More than 500 people have been killed and nearly 5,000 injured, according to official figures, but the real toll is feared to be much higher. Only 16 percent of Khartoum’s hospitals are now fully functional, Mandhari said, and there is a “real shortage in medical staff… especially specialised medical staff, for example in surgery and in anaesthesia”. The most vulnerable include about four million sick or pregnant women and 50,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition who will no longer receive vital care, Mandhari said. “There are approximately three million women or girls who are exposed to various types of… gender-based violence”, including sexual violence, he said, adding that children face “psychological pressures” from conflict and displacement. Malaria is endemic in Sudan and could spread when the rainy season starts in the coming weeks, he said, also warning of the threat of a cholera outbreak as clean water becomes increasingly sparse.