Medical coordinator for the emergency programme in Burkina Faso
“We are helping to cure nine out of ten malnourished children”
More and more children are not getting enough to eat in Burkina Faso. Bilalé Porgo works on a daily basis with families who have difficulty feeding themselves. He explains how lives can be saved through early detection and treatment of malnutrition.
Children under five and breastfeeding women are the focus of Tdh's attention. Why is this so?
Children under five are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition because they are still growing. Some of their organs and body parts are not yet fully developed, so they need to receive sufficient and healthy food. The consequences of lack of food can therefore be numerous and serious. Figures show that one in three sick children in Burkina Faso is malnourished.
Because it weakens the development of their immune system, malnutrition exposes them to diseases such as respiratory infections and malaria. This is what we call the vicious circle of malnutrition - infection - malnutrition, which can lead to death if the child is not properly cared for.
Another consequence is that cognitive and mental development is impaired. A malnourished child will have learning difficulties and therefore perform less well at school than a properly nourished child, and these effects will be felt throughout the child's life.
Breastfeeding women are also at risk of malnutrition because breastfeeding increases their food requirements. For women of childbearing age, not eating enough food can lead to abortions, stillbirths and low birth weight babies (less than 2.5 kg).
How is the support for vulnerable populations organised?
Tdh offers nutritional advice to mothers when they come for pregnancy monitoring. This advice focuses on their diet and that of their child. It is also intended to prevent a certain number of diseases in the mother.
We also organise screening campaigns in the communities to identify malnourished children and refer them to health centres. At these centres, we provide families with counselling and ready-to-use therapeutic foods, including a high-nutritional peanut-based energy paste. We also provide preventive distribution of fortified infant formula for children aged 6-23 months.
How do you support a malnourished child?
Every week, for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, or every two weeks for those suffering from moderate acute malnutrition, the child is taken by his mother to the hospital where we check that they have taken the therapeutic food we have given them. Our teams give the mother the necessary amount of food until her next visit. The child returns to the hospital until he or she regains a normal weight for his or her age and height. This usually takes between four and eight weeks. Monitoring of our actions shows that we achieve a higher than normal recovery rate. We contribute to the recovery of nine out of ten malnourished children we screen. Early detection and treatment therefore save lives.
Once the child is healthy again, we ask the mother to continue to monitor the child's progress at home. She benefits from the support of community workers identified and trained by Tdh. They are the ones who continue the awareness-raising work in the communities so that these children do not fall back into malnutrition. We distribute food and cash to cover household needs such as food, rent and health care. This helps to improve the care environment for children.
What satisfaction do you get from your work?
We operate in a difficult context, because some areas are inaccessible or dangerous. The whole point of our work is to be on the ground, in contact with the population. But we are proudly working to restore dignity to the displaced. Last week, I was at an advanced health post in the northern region where we organise consultations and distribute medicines free of charge. I was greeted by smiles. When we take care of a sick person, find them some time later and they are grateful to us because we have helped them to get better, I get a deep satisfaction from our commitment.