European Union pledges more aid to fight malnutrition

The European Commission (EC) is ready to increase its aid to fight malnutrition in Burkina Faso if current EC nutrition projects prove to be "success stories," said its humanitarian chief Louis Michel.

Michel announced the new commitment during the opening of a European Commission Development and Humanitarian Aid office (ECHO) in the capital, Ouagadougou, on 13 September.

ECHO is currently funding some ten humanitarian projects in Burkina Faso worth €12 million, (US$17 million), mostly to fight malnutrition among children and women.

ECHO's partners include the UN children's fund, UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme, OXFAM International, Paris-based Action Contre la Faim, the Burkinabe Red Cross Society and Save the Children.

"If it [EC programs] works well, there won't be any obstacle to mobilise funds from the [European] Commission and its member states because success is the most convincing argument," Michel added.

Malnutrition, West Africa's steady killer

According to a government 2003 health survey (known by its French acronym, EDS), acute and chronic malnutrition affect, respectively, 19 and 39 percent of children under five in Burkina Faso.

More than 20 percent of pregnant women suffer from malnutrition, which often results in them having children with low birth weights. Health studies have linked low-weight babies to costly, and possibly, deadly health problems.

According to Jan Eijkenaar, ECHO's West Africa regional humanitarian officer, 1.3 million children suffer from growth-stunting malnutrition in desert Sub-Saharan countries.

UNICEF estimates malnutrition is responsible for half of all under-five child deaths in the Sahel,  which means about 300,000 children die every year from malnourishment.

According to the EDS survey, too little breastfeeding, followed by poor nutrition, infectious diseases like malaria, and diahorrea all contribute to malnutrition.

Since 2005, EU, through ECHO, has given €43 million, (USD$ 60 million), to nutrition projects in Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Togo and Chad, all arid, drought-prone Sahelian countries where the EU estimates at least 10 percent of the population is malnourished.

Jean Nadembega, a Save the Children coordinator, helps run nutrition programs in 40 health centres in northern Burkina Faso.

He said he hopes the new ECHO location in Ouagadougou will lead to easier coordination.

"It is going to facilitate the access to resources and will allow the donor to be in touch with the realities in the field." Nadembega told IRIN.

Fighting malnutrition in Burkina Faso

ECHO estimates acute malnutrition affects up to 400,000 children under the age of five in Burkina Faso.

ECHO-funded nutrition programs there include children's nutrition assessments, promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to six months of age, children and women-focused health interventions, health staff training, community-based feeding units, crop production support, and vitamin distribution.

According to 2003 government figures, people in 12 out of the country's 65 health districts do not get enough of Vitamin A, which helps people fight infections. According to the government, less than 27 percent of Burkinabes have access to iodine in their diets, which leads to stunted growth.