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The continuing challenge of malnutrition in Burkina Faso

Malnutrition has dropped by 13 percentage points in the last decade
Malnutrition has dropped by 13 percentage points in the last decade

In the West African country of Burkina Faso, malnutrition continues to represent a major impediment to children's healthy development.

Over the last decade NGOs and the government of Burkina Faso have worked hard to reduce the rate of acute malnutrition amongst children from a high of 21% in 2003, to just over 8% in 2013.

This drop is good news for children throughout the country who no longer face the threat of imminent starvation. However, levels of chronic malnutrition have shown a far less dramatic decline, 43% in 2003 to 31.5% in 2013. This sort of malnutrition is long term and far less obvious, but can severely hamper children's present and future life chances if it is not tackled now.

Limited funding

Funding to combat malnutrition in Burkina Faso grew significantly between 2006 and 2013. However, Sylvestre Tapsoba, an expert in nutrition at UNICEF, believes that it remains well below what is needed to properly combat the problems. Importantly, he argues, the focus on acute malnutrition has meant that the struggle against chronic cases often goes under funded.

Chronic malnutrition hampers children's physical and intellectual growth, and makes them far more likely to drop out of school. Talking to Irin news agency, Tapsoba argues that more needs to be done to combat the chronic malnutrition that puts a million children at risk of "never reaching their physical, intellectual or developmental potential".

The country-town divide

There is also a significant divide between the countryside and urban areas when it comes to malnutrition amongst children in Burkina Faso. In cities and towns 20% of children are affected, whilst in the rural regions this rises to over 33%.

The government has drawn up clear plans to expand access to nutrition-led healthcare in the countryside. However, Monica Rinaldi, from the NGO HELP, tells Irin that more needs to be done to reach out to rural populations and maximise the impact of healthcare improvements. She points out that in the rural districts where HELP works to raise awareness about the free services available to pregnant women and children, attendance at nutrition treatment centres rose by over 600% in 2013.

Bertile Ouaro, head of nutrition at the ministry of health, recognises these challenges. He agrees that the effects of chronic malnutrition often go overlooked because they are less noticeable than acute malnutrition. He goes on to say that the government has done a lot to promote fortified food as a means of overcoming chronic malnutrition, but that this is often a difficult message to spread, particularly in rural areas.

For nearly two decades, SOS Children has been providing Burkina Faso's most vulnerable children with a new home. Today, we work in two key locations. Find out more about our work in Burkina Faso.

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