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In 2017, the UK Aid Match scheme supported our Food in a Fragile World appeal – giving us an opportunity to launch an ambitious project in Burundi to combat malnutrition in children under five. As the project ends, we’re reflecting on its impact and the mark it’s made on thousands of families living in extreme poverty.
Four years ago, thanks to generous donations from the public, we raised £1.8 million - including £851,237 of match funding from the UK government - for our Food in a Fragile World appeal. The match funding gave us an opportunity to launch an ambitious project in Cibitoke, Burundi, which aimed to improve the lives of 58,000 children under five who were at serious risk of malnutrition.
Life in Burundi
Right now, more than 50% of people living in Burundi don’t have enough to eat. Poverty, inconsistent rainfall and the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have all contributed to high levels of food insecurity and hunger. In turn, the country currently has the highest prevalence of chronic malnutrition in the world.
Children, who make up around half the population, are disproportionately affected by this. In Cibitoke, northwest Burundi, every other child is chronically malnourished - impacting their ability to grow and learn, preventing their development and weakening their immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.
A child’s first 730 days of life before they turn two are critical when it comes to nutrition. A healthy, balanced diet during this time can have a significant impact on their later development. That’s why we, in collaboration with Burundi’s Ministry of Health, set out to try and prevent malnutrition - and strengthen treatment for it - across four communes in Cibitoke.
Over the last three years, we are proud to have reached 58,580 children under five across Citiboke, through these innovative approaches:
- Over 500 health workers received training to better identify and treat malnutrition in young children, and provide better quality of care and treatment for diseases like malaria, acute respiratory tract infections and diarrhoea – all of which contribute to malnutrition.
- The parents of over 4,000 households with young children learned to grow a wide range of vegetables in their homes to diversify their children’s diets. This gave them the means to nurse their ill children back to health, and prevent cases of malnutrition in the future.
- Mothers joined together to form Care Groups that met frequently with trained members of the community to learn about health, nutrition and good hygiene in order to combat malnutrition and the spread of infectious diseases. Carers also visited the homes of local parents to help put this learning into action.
- Health workers were equipped to conduct Positive Deviance/Hearth programmes, a globally recognised approach that fosters behavioural changes at a community level to help rehabilitate underweight and wasted children and prevent future cases of malnutrition. Of the 4,291 children with malnutrition that were supported through this approach, 3,808 so far have seen significant improvements in their nutrition and gained at least 200g.
Who we’ve helped
We’re thrilled that the project has achieved its aims of helping communities across Cibitoke to identify, treat and ultimately prevent malnutrition in young children. Within these communities are mums like Marie, who has six children including five-year-old Clovis. When we met Clovis, he had severe malnutrition and weighed just 11 kilos. He was in a critical situation. Clovis was admitted to a nutritional centre, where health workers gave him a balanced diet and helped build up his strength. Marie, with the help of trained community members, learned to prepare nutritious home-cooked meals for him to help his recovery.
“Thanks to this care, my child was saved,” Marie told us. “I have learned a lot about preparing a balanced meal and my other children have benefited from what I learned. Clovis no longer needs special care. Our wish is to have healthy children who are able to succeed.”
"Thanks to this care, my child was saved. Our wish is to have healthy children who are able to succeed."
Jacqueline, another mother, told us: “Before Concern’s Care Group came to our house, our five children were very ill. The women taught us about hygiene, helped us build a hand-washing station and showed us how to identify the signs of a sick child so we can bring our children into hospital when we need to. We admire their work so much. We wish that our children’s health could improve so they can go to school and study well.”
Concern’s Interim Country Director in Burundi, Leo Roozendaal, said:
“Burundi remains one of the poorest countries in the word, with exceptionally high levels of chronic malnutrition. Despite this situation, it’s been incredible to work on the project with mothers, communities, administrators and health professionals to strengthen people’s motivation and knowledge so that young children across the country can grow up healthier. We know malnutrition is preventable – but what this project shows is that, even in situations where communities are facing extreme poverty, a little determination can go a long way.”
This project marks the beginning of a future in Burundi where malnutrition is ultimately prevented. It’s only with your support, and the support of the UK government, that we’ve been able to start paving the way towards this vision.