Malaria epidemic and food crisis combine to create a very worrying situation in northern Burundi

Burundi- The international medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today expresses alarm about the increasingly worrying situation for the population of northern Burundi who face both an unprecedented malaria epidemic and a food crisis. All possible means must be used to urgently help the population there. MSF urges the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide sufficient food in northern Burundi for a general food distribution to take place. Without this, the consequences could be disastrous.

In the province of Karuzi, an MSF assessment shows a quarter of all children suffer from problems of malnutrition, and the situation is worsening day by day. At least 59 children died during the month of December, 2000.

"The children are coming in a very bad state which reduces their immunity. This makes them more susceptible to malaria and other diseases, resulting in more deaths," explained Andy Durrant, Co-ordinator of MSF in Bujumbura.

MSF runs two therapeutic (intensive) feeding centres and eight supplementary feeding centres, mainly targeting children under 12. Two urgent openings of new therapeutic feeding centres are to take place in Buhiga and Gitaramuka. Around 600 children suffering severe malnutrition need around-the-clock care - which will be provided in these feeding centres. The number of children requiring such care has doubled since November, 2000. MSF's supplementary feeding centres provide weekly extra food rations to about 16,500 people.

Last year's harvest failed. The impending harvest looks likely to be insufficient to meet the needs of the population. The rains came late and when they did come, the rain fell so heavily that floods destroyed many of the crops.

A significant malaria epidemic is currently raging in the north of the country, which has further weakened the population’s strength. The referral hospital in Karuzi, for example, currently has around 300 patients but only 125 beds. Last November, more that 720,000 malaria cases were reported throughout the entire country. In the provinces of Kayanza and Ngozi, the health centres supported by MSF were carrying out 25,000 consultations per week.

In response to this humanitarian crisis, two MSF charter planes left Belgium at the end of December 2000, and a third still left this Saturday with tonnes of logistical material and food items (high-protein peanut paste, high-energy milk etc).

But the affected populations urgently need a general food distribution. The World Food Programme, which is already active in other areas in Burundi, must organise this urgently.

MSF also calls upon relevant donor agencies to support the WFP with funds for this vital work.