Burkina Faso: “I lost my three-year-old sister”
“I’ve played a doctor since I was a child,” Jean tells me and grins.
Jean is the nutrition expert of Save the Children in Burkina Faso and I’ve come to his office in Ouagadougou, the capital city, to pick his brains.
Jean is the one to ask if you have a question on malnutrition, having been with Save the Children for the past 12 years; mostly in Burkina Faso but also in the Democratic Republic of Congo. No matter what the question is, he’ll have the answer.
Instead of becoming a doctor, Jean became a nurse. And then he continued his studies in the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and obtained a master’s degree in international public health.
His entire professional life has been about nutrition and health. And so has his personal life.
“When I was 14, I lost my three-year-old sister. She was malnourished and eventually died when a measles outbreak got her.”
That was back in 1974 when Burkina Faso found itself facing a full-blown famine.
“Back then, we didn’t have peanut paste,” Jean says, referring to the nutrient-rich peanut paste given to severely malnourished children when food crises such as the one in west Africa hits.
The worst is yet to come
Although the food crisis of today is not as serious as in 1974, the situation is dire.
“Malnutrition in Burkina Faso is on the rise”, Jean says. And since we are only at the beginning of the lean season, the worst is yet to come.
It is predicted that one in ten children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition in the coming months.
The situation was alarming even before the crisis hit, with nearly one-third of all Burkinabè children stunted due to chronic malnutrition.
Waiting for rain
“It hasn’t rained since last September. And now the rainy season that ought to have started hasn’t yet,” Jean explains.
The areas worst hit of Burkina Faso are in the north, central-north, south-west, east and Sahel regions.
These are the areas where people are trying to cope with around one-third of crops they would have in a normal year. And this is the area Jean is guiding me to; Kaya, where Save the Children supports 52 health centres and is already reaching thousands of children and their families.