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Health centres provide a safety net for families in Burkina Faso

The drought across the Sahel region this year has taken its toll on families across the region, including in Burkina Faso.

Prices for basic foods such as millet and sorghum are over 50% higher than last year, particularly in areas where there have been poor agricultural yields. The lean period is almost over with harvests beginning in October and thanks to sufficient rains, the prospects for a better season are looking good. Nevertheless, the latest food update from the World Food Programme (WFP) warns that many households are still suffering from food insecurity and the situation remains “fragile”.

Health centres across the country have been working hard to help prevent malnutrition, screening babies and young children and weighing them. The Guardian’s reporter recently spoke to families attending a health centre in Noaka, near the city of Kaya. One mother of four had brought her newborn to the clinic, worried that her milk was proving insufficient. The family were due to finish their last food supplies in the next few days and the mother said simply “I wonder when this food is finished, what I will do?”

With poor harvests due to the lack of rain during 2011, many families have been left facing shortages, their children at risk of malnutrition. Some, like the mother attending the clinic, have relied on begging for food from neighbours or relatives.

Outside organisations such as the WFP, the UN’s Child Agency UNICEF and Save the Children, have also been offering support. Save the Children, for example, has over 50 community health centres across the district of Kaya. Each week, hundreds of mothers visit these local centres to have their children assessed for signs of malnutrition. All children under the age of five receive free treatment, which might include time spent at the stabilisation clinic of Kaya’s regional hospital if a child is severely malnourished. SOS Children’s Villages operates medical centres near its two villages in Ouagadougou and Dafra.

Medical centres act as an important health safety net in Burkina. In addition, they offer advice to new mothers about key nutritional issues such as the importance of breastfeeding and not giving babies dirty water to drink. But even with the best advice, it may be many months before smallholders in some regions of Burkina Faso get back on their feet after this year’s terrible drought and begin to harvest enough food to feed their families.

Laurinda Luffman signature