In Gashoho Commune in northern Burundi’s Muyinga Province, agriculture is the main source of income for the local population. A forty-year-old mother, Beatrice, lives on a hill on a small plot of 1600 square feet, which her family uses for both housing and farming. Beatrice manages to grow bananas and other plants behind her single-room house, but this is not enough to feed her family on a daily basis. She and her children occasionally work on neighbors’ farms for a daily wage of 600 Burundian francs (about $0.50 USD/person) or some food in the harvest season. Despite all of their efforts, the family often doesn’t have enough to eat, and regularly goes several days without food.
One of Beatrice’s daughters, seven year-old Mughisha (meaning “good luck”), has been very fragile since she was born. A month after Mughisha’s conception, Beatrice developed frequent health problems, which persisted throughout the pregnancy. Consequently, Mughisha was born with a very low birth weight (3.3 lbs) and started experiencing various health problems, as well.
Throughout her life, Mughisha was so emaciated and ill that everyone thought she would not survive. By the time Mughisha was 7, Xaviere, a neighbor, alarmed at how thin she had become, suggested that Beatrice take the child to Gashoho Health Center, where she might find support. A couple of months earlier, Xaviere had brought her four-year old son to the center, where he received treatment from the International Medical Corps, through a Multi-Year Assistance Program (MYAP). The MYAP focuses on improving nutrition outcomes for pregnant and nursing women and children under two. Beatrice arrived at the health center after a two-and-a-half hour walk carrying Mughisha on her back. The tiny girl was admitted with a body weight of 15.6 lbs.
Soon after starting treatment, Mughisha’s health improved and she felt well enough to play with her brothers and sisters. “The first day I arrived at Gashoho Health Center, staff took care of us and treated my daughter free of charge,” says the amazed mother. “They even gave us food on a regular basis. My daughter gained weight and recovered very fast.”
International Medical Corps treats severe malnutrition through cutting edge approaches that allow most caregivers and malnourished children to remain at home during treatment. This helps families complete the full course, enabling a full recovery. “The most interesting thing is that I was able to come back home to take care of my other children, as opposed to (being away during) the period my child was sick,” said Beatrice.
Thanks to International Medical Corps’ holistic approach, Beatrice received nutrition and health education during treatment to help her keep Mughisha healthy and strong after she was discharged from treatment. Beatrice and Mughisha’s story is just one of the many successes of the MYAP project in Burundi being implemented by International Medical Corps in cooperation with Catholic Relief Services. Providing treatment services for malnutrition is just one part of the approach that International Medical Corps is implementing in Burundi. Since malnutrition is caused by a variety of factors that also need to be addressed to manage the disease – including poverty and lack of education in resource-poor communities – International Medical Corps also works with the Ministry of Health to train local staff and with local communities to promote healthy nutrition practices. Using an innovative method, we train groups of mothers in these healthy nutrition practices and then send them into the broader community to form their own mother-baby groups to convey these practices to their peers. The Mother Care Group approach is especially effective because it is a preventative strategy based on behavior change and communication used to stop malnutrition before it takes hold.
International Medical Corps has worked in Burundi since 1995 and today administers programs in eight of the country’s 17 provinces. In addition to nutrition services, our programs include primary health care and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.