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Burundi: New ECHO and UNICEF supported drug policy prevents child deaths

© UNICEF video
8-month-old Sibonna receives a newly developed treatment for Malaria which has greatly improved survival rates among children affected by the disease.

By Aditi Menon-Broker

MUYINGA, Burundi, 27 June 2005 – When 8-month-old Sibonna first arrived at Burundi’s Muyinga Provincial Hospital, he was dying of malaria, a disease which kills more people in this African country than HIV/AIDS, war or any other cause. His mother had already succumbed to the disease.

Malaria kills a child somewhere in the world every 30 seconds. It infects at least 500 million people each year, killing 1 million. Ninety per cent of those who die are in Africa, where malaria accounts for about one in five of all childhood deaths.

At Muyinga hospital, Sibonna received a new therapy – artesunate and amodiaquine – which represents a promising new development in malaria treatment. According to health care workers, the combination is not only affordable but has also proven over 95 per cent effective when used in the first stage of treatment.

“When we used fansidar and chloroquine in the past, the follow-up results always tested positive for malaria, but with the new drug it is negative most of the time,” explains Esperance Muhimpundu, a nurse at Muyinga Hospital.

© UNICEF video
Children and family members waiting at Muyinga Provincial Hospital to receive the newly developed drug therapy which has been made available through the efforts of ECHO and UNICEF.

A pioneering effort

The government of Burundi is pioneering the use of these new drugs in response to the epidemic which gripped the country five years ago. In 2000, Burundi emerged from the shadow of a civil war that contributed to the spread of malaria from the lowlands, where it was endemic, to the highlands where communities had not been previously exposed.

The highland populations had little or no acquired immunity, making them particularly susceptible to the disease. As a result the number of reported cases of malaria rose from an average of around 500,000 per year to more than 3 million, representing almost half the total population of Burundi.

The drug policy change adopted by the government of Burundi in 2003 has proven a success. With funding from ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office, and technical assistance from UNICEF, the government of Burundi is hopeful that it can control malaria.

Control of malaria includes both prevention and treatment. Prevention, including the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, remains a priority. But if prevention fails, effective treatment must be available in order to save children’s lives.

Rolling back malaria

New drug therapies are a key element of the plan. According to Yorgos Kapranis, an ECHO representative, “Studies proved that the new generation drugs – the Artemisinin Combination treatment, what we commonly call ACTs – are much more effective.”

In Burundi, the government is subsidizing the cost of the new drugs and UNICEF is also working to increase the supply of the safe, effective and affordable ACTs, spending $1.6 million last year for this purpose.

Halting and reversing the incidence of malaria by 2015 is one of the Millennium Development Goals. The more immediate goal of the 'Roll Back Malaria' campaign is to halve the burden of malaria worldwide by 2010.

According to the recent World Malaria Report, a major obstacle to achieving these goals is a lack of funds. The 2005 Report estimates that $3.2 billion per year is needed to effectively combat malaria in the 82 countries with the highest incidence of the disease.

Sibonna is fortunate: Thanks to the drug policy change by the Burundi government, he will most likely survive his battle with malaria and return home with his grandmother. Thousands of other children in malaria-affected countries around the world may not be so lucky without continued support from governments, international organizations and NGOs, for the fight against malaria.




June 2005:
Aditi Menon-Broker reports on how a new anti-malaria drug therapy introduced with the help of ECHO and UNICEF is helping save lives in Burundi.

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