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Joint press release

Improved health system for returnees in Burundi

Bujumbura 21 July 2004- A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Health Interventions and Health System Reinforcement related to the voluntary repatriation of refugees and reintegration of the affected populations to Burundi was signed today in the capital Bujumbura by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The ceremony was chaired by the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in Burundi, Ms. Carolyn McAskie.  Present at the ceremony were also the Minister of Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, the Minister of Health, the President of the National Commission for Reintegration and representatives from major donor countries, other UN agencies and NGOs. The event marked the commitment of the international community to support the country in its efforts towards peace and development. “I hope that the signature of this memorandum will contribute to the reinforcement of our cooperation and that it serves as a reminder of our strong commitment”, said the Special Representative at the ceremony.

“The Memorandum of Understanding is intended to ensure the continuation of the successful joint health programming and consolidated efforts of the three agencies”, explained Dr Abdel Wahed El Abassi Representative of the WHO in Burundi. “To make the activities more efficient the process of joint programming has been inclusive with the participation of the Government, partner NGOs and donors. We see this kind of collaboration as a positive step towards the reconstruction of the country.” Dr Abdel Wahed El Abassi continued.

Since 1993, the conflict in Burundi caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of basic social infrastructure such as hospitals and health centers. In 2003, 800,000 Burundians were estimated to live in Tanzania. Successful political negotiations have now stabilized the security situation and around 50 percent of the 281,000 Internally Displaced Population (IDPs) returned home to their home communities. The process of voluntary repatriation, stipulated in the Arusha agreement, started in 2002. During the first half of this year 52,062 refugees have voluntary returned from Tanzania, the majority were facilitated transfer by UNHCR. This process might accelerate in the coming months depending on school breaks, harvest season and the planed election.

“The joint programming is aiming the reinforcement of the health system to improve access to quality health care for the population affected by the process of repatriation. Beneficiaries include returnees, IDPs and the local population in Burundi taking into consideration the specific needs of children and women. Actions are based on general human rights and principles contained in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and in other international instruments governing the rights of refugees and IDPs,” said Mr. Cherif Benadouda, Programme Coordinator and currently Officer in Charge at UNICEF Bujumbura. 

The objectives are the identification of health problems among the returning refugees, access to an effective Minimum Care Package and the reinforcement of the epidemiological surveillance system. This is ensured through integrated activities such as provision of equipment and essential medicine in addition to the rehabilitation of health centers. Capacities of health staff are reinforced to ensure quality health care and an effective integration of the returning population in the national health system. Ten hospitals are also supported in order to increase the operational capacity for emergency care.  In addition, families and communities are empowered and sensitized, in order to improve their capacity to recognize illnesses, follow up on treatments and refer to appropriate health structure when needed.

 “We believe that this experience of joint programming will first of all improve the access to health facilities for the Burundian population but also that it will serve as a good practice for the international community,” explained Mr. Kaba-Guichard Neyaga, Representative of UNHCR in Burundi. 

The joint planning is currently focusing on 200 health centers in the most affected communes in 10 provinces where more than 10,000 returnees per province are expected over the year. However, the MoU lays the ground for a second phase including the consolidation of existing programs and an extension to the remaining provinces during 2005. All activities are conducted in support to the Government and in partnership with NGOs, which is essential for the success of this project.

Activities to prepare the effective implementation have been launched by the three agencies in accordance with their respective mandate.  A complementary funding proposal was presented in the Consolidated Inter-agency Appeal for 2004. A part of the activities have been funded by the United Kingdom through its Department for International Development (DFID)and the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO), although increased resources need to be mobilized to ensure the planned activities.


For more information, please contact:

UNHCR Burundi: Bernard Ntwari, phone (257) 22 32 45, ntwari@unhcr.ch
Burundi: Sara Johansson, Communication Officer, phone: (257) 22 68 88 mobile: (257) 950 247
WHO Burundi: Marc Nkunzimana, phone: (257) 23 17 02, mobile (257) 858 665





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