22/06/2012 – In Burundi, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have managed to stabilize acute malnutrition, that is, the seasonal hunger and malnutrition that arises when there is a disease outbreak or food crisis.
However, one out of every two children in Burundi is still chronically malnourished. This means that from the time they are born, they suffer deficiencies in nutrition. Although they do not necessarily die as a result, they will have impaired cognitive development which later impedes their learning capacity and performance in school.
This is a big hidden emergency of which many people are unaware as it is not visible as is a child who is dying of acute malnutrition.
Thankfully this is changing. A collaborative project between UNICEF and ECHO is scaling up and strengthening the integration of the community-based management of acute malnutrition inside the health centres.
Before this project, health centres depended on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or external partners to treat malnutrition. Now, the government has taken ownership of the problem making it a part of a package of health services that all health centres have to offer to the community.
This project has now been scaled-up from 9 up to 17 provinces. Most health centres in the country right now have the capacity to manage and treat acute malnutrition and by the end of this year, all provinces in the country will be covered by this approach.
In 2012, ECHO is closing its office in Burundi. UNICEF will continue to maintain the nutrition programme for the treatment of acute malnutrition, because it is not only in our mandate, but it is also a basic programme of the Ministry of Health which we support.
ECHO’s exit has not been abrupt. ECHO funding has allowed us to use more and more of our resources to build upon advocacy and constructing partnerships. We have been able to engage in dialogue with other UN Agencies and other donors such as the European Union, in order to integrate nutrition into large scale development.
Overall, the ECHO-UNICEF collaboration has saved many lives in Burundi. I have seen children coming to health centres on the brink of death. They within 24 to 48 hours – but because of the treatment given to these children, within one to two weeks, they completely regain their weight, they are able to run around, they are able to play, and they are able to smile again.
This is really what is really rewarding.
As ECHO celebrates its 20th anniversary I would like to extend, on behalf of UNICEF, a great thanks to ECHO because you have supported many of our programmes worldwide often in very difficult challenging country contexts. This has allowed UNICEF and its partners to not only save millions of lives but to ensure that the rights of children to food, to health and nutrition are fulfilled.
By Hedy Ip
Nutrition specialist for Unicef in Burundi