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Government could do more to tackle malnutrition, say aid workers

Burkina Faso's government says 23 percent acute malnutrition is not a crisis. Aid agencies say the government is the obstacle to making progress.
(Nicholas Reader/IRIN)

The government is not being as cooperative as it might be in tackling malnutrition, say aid agency officials in Burkina Faso.

They say the government is continuing to impede aid efforts, despite an appeal to the prime minister by a UN representative last month.

Malnutrition still contributes to at least 50 percent of child deaths and nutrition is getting worse, according to data made available to IRIN by the Ministry of Health.

In some places, around 23 percent of under fives suffer from acute malnutrition, the stage at which emaciation sets in, the Ministry of Health said. The World Health Organization calls 10 percent acute malnutrition a “serious nutrition situation”.

In Niger, by contrast, acute malnutrition rarely exceeds 12 percent. The country had high levels of acute malnutrition two years ago, but newly developed feeding techniques, collaboration between aid agencies and the government, and millions of dollars in donor money have cut child deaths to US levels in some regions, and at least reduced acute malnutrition to below emergency levels almost everywhere else.

Last month, the head of the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) in Burkina Faso, Joan French, met the prime minister to discuss the “enormous” malnutrition rate and to “signal the need” for the government to work harder on malnutrition and to “make sure” that it would give particular attention to women’s needs.

Food not the only problem

“This is not just a problem of food production because the country had a good harvest last year; there are other aspects as well,” French told IRIN after the meeting, highlighting the need for improved access for women to money and food for themselves and to feed their children, and saying education for mothers in child care has been overlooked.

However, aid agencies in Burkina Faso say since then the Ministry of Health, which controls nutrition-related projects, has remained an “obstacle” to their rolling out similar programmes that have helped in Niger.

“It is blocking activities of all the agencies from NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and the UN - nothing advances on any level and everyone is very frustrated,” said one well-placed aid official. The official refused to be named out of concern the organisation’s work could be curtailed. “There are plenty of NGOs ready to work, there is even plenty of money, but we also need political will and that is lacking,” the official added.

"The government has been promising to create a protocol on malnutrition for two years but has not yet done so. Every time we want to do something they say it might not conform to the protocol, but as the protocol does not exist, that means it is hard to do anything," the official said.

''There are plenty of NGOs ready to work, there is even plenty of money, but we also need political will and that is lacking''


In some parts of Niger this year, less seriously malnourished children are being treated by NGOs as a pre-emptive measure to stop them developing serious malnutrition later on, but the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health has refused to allow the same project, the official said.

“Unhealthy environment”

Sylvestre Tapsoba, director of nutrition at the Ministry of Health, said: “There is neither a food crisis nor a nutritional crisis in Burkina Faso.” He did agree there is a “problem”, but said it is not the Ministry of Health’s responsibility to respond to it.

“We have policies but there is everywhere an unhealthy environment that makes it difficult,” he said, referring to the “dire” educational, health, environment and water problems in Burkina Faso.

“The idea that malnutrition related deaths are just related to poverty and the reduction of poverty is defeatist,” countered another aid agency official. “The situation is grave but solutions do exist. If everyone pulled in the same direction with money, cooperation and political will it is possible to make a difference.”

Meanwhile the food security situation in Burkina Faso is not deemed bleak, according to the latest FEWS NET report of July 2007. “It is highly likely that food security will remain above-average until the beginning of the rainy season in most parts of the country. However, localised areas of certain livelihood zones affected by climatic anomalies… will experience increased food insecurity,” the report said.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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