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Burundi has a very high potential for food self-sufficiency. However, with a population of 13 million inhabitants (INSBU 2023 projections), almost half of whom are under the age of 18, the Eastern African country has been affected by chronic child malnutrition for several decades.
Unlike acute malnutrition, which happens quickly and requires immediate treatment to prevent death, chronic malnutrition occurs over the long term. Its main consequence is stunting, which “holds children back from reaching their physical and cognitive potential,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and is one of the challenges facing certain countries, including Burundi.
“Acute malnutrition seems to be under control in Burundi, at a rate of around 4.8%.The challenge remains stunting,” as confirmed by Doctor Célestin Sibomana, Permanent Executive Secretary of the Multisectoral Food and Nutrition Security Platform, Office of the Prime Minister.
The latest nutritional survey conducted in Burundi (SMART, 2022) showed that 56% of children under the age of 5 suffer from stunting, which is well above the critical threshold of 30% set by the WHO. Beyond the nutritional emergency, the consequences can be seen over the long term, with “socio-emotional and neurophysiological development problems that may lead to harmful effects on health, learning, future productivity and on the economy of their communities and their nations,” explains France Bégin, UNICEF Representative in Burundi.
Burundi has already realised that stunting is a complex problem with many causes: on the one hand, the low standard of living for households does not allow access to sufficient dietary diversity. On the other hand, hygiene conditions, difficulties in accessing drinking water, lack of quality care and services for mothers and their children, and poor eating habits all combine to maintain a vicious circle that Burundi is determined to break by changing the status quo through multisectoral interventions.
Taking action for the health, good nutrition and development of children
To reverse the trend, UNICEF backs government initiatives by being involved and active in both malnutrition prevention and the appropriate treatment of proven cases: “In 2023, for example, thanks to UNICEF’s support, around 1,200,000 children aged from 6 to 59 months were able to receive 2 doses of vitamin A supplements and undergo deworming, while 500,000 children under 2 received multiple micronutrient powders.In addition, over 500,000 breastfeeding mothers and people who look after children will receive specific advice on food and care for infants and young children, as well on good hygiene and sanitation practices,” specifies France Bégin. In parallel to these efforts, 247,382 women have benefited from services to prevent anaemia and other forms of malnutrition, while 75,950 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition received adequate quality care.
Health, however, is not the only way to prevent stunting, which is why UNICEF is participating in multisectoral efforts undertaken by the government of Burundi, including the promotion of agriculture and livestock farming; the implementation of local food system initiatives aimed at improving dietary diversity among children; education; social protection; and access to water and hygiene.
UNICEF is also helping the Burundian government to draft and revise standard documents for nutrition, while providing precious support in conducting nutritional surveys, such as SMART, which inform Burundi’s nutritional policies and strategies.
The focus is this necessity: to follow an action plan encompassing all sectors and involving all local stakeholders in order to strengthen their capacities for action, and to build a future in which each and every Burundian child may flourish.
Discover UNICEF’s actions in Burundi: https://www.unicef.org/burundi/