February 01, 2001

MSF Calls for General Food Distribution by WFP for Affected Populations

Bujumbura/New York, February 2, 2001 — The international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today reported that the number of severely malnourished children admitted to their therapeutic (intensive) feeding centers in the province of Karuzi has doubled over the past four weeks and is worsening daily. MSF called on the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) to improve the food supply pipeline to Burundi to enable a general food distribution to affected populations in the north of the country and to ensure a consistent supply of food (corn-soya blend and oil) for existing feeding programs.

MSF is the only organization running feeding programs in Karuzi. These programs are targeting children, adolescents, and lactating mothers but are rapidly approaching full capacity (20,000 people). MSF underlined the increasing need for other agencies to provide care to the malnourished adults and to launch a distribution of seeds and tools in the province.

"Therapeutic and supplementary feeding programs target those who are already malnourished and who need medical help. This will not solve the problem," said MSF Head of Mission Andrew Durrant. "WFP and associated donors must drastically improve the food pipeline and ensure that adequate amounts of food reach those most in need. Without a general food distribution in the province, the numbers of malnourished will continue to rise," he added.

There are about 360,000 people in Karuzi, 20 percent of whom are children under five years old. An MSF nutritional survey conducted in November 2000 in the province, showed that a quarter of these children were affected by malnutrition. Thirteen percent were suffering from severe malnutrition and required therapeutic feeding.

Since then, the nutritional situation has worsened day by day. Over the past month, MSF has seen the number of severely malnourished children requiring therapeutic feeding more than double in its programs, from 460 children at the end of December 2000, to 1,100 at the end of January 2001. Every day, approximately 150 severely malnourished children are newly admitted who fit the international criteria for malnutrition. This is up from 50 per day at the end of December. Since January 2000, MSF has also witnessed a tenfold increase in the total number of malnutrition cases admitted to supplementary programs.

MSF is currently feeding 19,000 children and lactating mothers in 10 supplementary feeding centers and 1,100 children in 4 therapeutic (intensive) feeding centers. MSF will open two additional therapeutic feeding centers within the next two weeks, allowing for a total capacity of 2,300 children. A quarter of the children admitted to all feeding programs come from the neighboring province of Ngozi.

A lack of rain reduced last year's harvest and the upcoming harvest in May/June will be insufficient to meet the population's needs unless seeds are distributed by mid-February. A serious malaria epidemic continues in the north of the country, with 30,000 cases per week being treated in the province of Karuzi.

MSF activities in Karuzi involve more than 1,000 national staff and 43 international staff. MSF is also working in the capital, Bujumbura, and in the provinces of Cancuzo, Bujumbura Rural, Kayanza and Ngozi, and is running surgical, nutritional and medical programs (including mobile teams for malaria).