EASTERN AND SOUTHERN AFRICA feature story for Burundi

© UNICEF Burundi/2007/Robert

A malnourished child drinks therapeutic milk at a UNICEF-supported therapeutic nutrition centre in Ruyigi, south of Bujumbura. Malnutrition is one of the country’s principal causes of under-five mortality.


GITEGA PROVINCE, Burundi, September 2009 - Looking at Ines Hatungimana1, a baby girl of 16 months, joyfully play with other children in the courtyard of Gitega Hospital’s therapeutic feeding centre, it is hard to believe that two weeks earlier she was so ill she could neither walk nor eat.

Her mother Regine, 37, calls Ines to take her porridge before it gets cold, like any mother would with a child with a healthy appetite.  Then Regine begins to tell the story of Ines.

“You see this child, two weeks ago when we were admitted here, she was almost dead. You would not recognize her - her legs, feet and face were very swollen. She had lost her appetite and developed diarrhoea with high fever. I thought that since the same thing happened one year ago to my late son, she might have eaten ‘ishano’, or poison. I went to see our traditional healer but no results.  Ines was getting worse day after day,” Regine remembers with sadness about the death of her son and her concern for Ines’ condition. 

“One day a community health worker visited us and urged me to bring the child to the District health centre in Mutaho. My child was so sick that the Health Centre immediately referred us to the nutritional therapeutic centre in Gitega Hospital. The nurses took care of her, giving milk and porridge. And now she is smiling again, and growing as a normal child,” she says with relief.

In Burundi, malnutrition is a main cause of morbidity and mortality in children under five; 35 per cent are considered underweight while 53 per cent are stunted as a result of a lack of key micronutrients.  A child who with severe acute malnutrition can develop painful conditions like Ines, as well as stunted growth and cognitive development challenges.

The therapeutic feeding centre where Ines received her life-saving care is one out of 136 such centres across Burundi. Children suffering from malnutrition who are admitted to these special feeding centres receive therapeutic foods with essential micronutrients.  Trained health personnel also offer parents and caregivers daily lessons on appropriate feeding practices, childcare and hygiene to prevent malnutrition and waterborne disease.

In Gitega province, the therapeutic feeding programme has had a recovery rate for malnourished children of 93 per cent. The impact of these joint efforts provided by UNICEF and its partners to prevent and treat severe acute malnutrition in children is evident to mothers like Regine and thousands of other parents and caregivers. 

UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Health and international and local NGOs continues to provide training and equipment for 6 stabilization centres, 19 therapeutic feeding centres and 111 outpatient therapeutic programmes across the country.

1 Names of individuals have been changed to protect their identity.