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Pandemic doesn’t stop Burundi partner showing up for healthy moms and babies

Ada watches over the enriched porridge before distributing it to moms. (Lara Meguid photo)

September 28, 2020

By Lara Meguid

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Lara Meguid is the communications coordinator for Village Health Works in Burundi. In this report she describes the measures taken to continue monitoring the health of moms and babies in remote areas of Burundi.

We load the car up, bags full of supplementation porridge, scales, measuring devices, soap, note pads, gloves and buckets. Our team today includes Ada, our great food distributor, Masabo, from the M&E, Melchiade, the All Mothers and Children Count project coordinator, Ernest our nurse, our cheerful driver Pascal and me.

Ernest holds MUAC tape and anthropometric measures comparison tables

With the COVID-19 pandemic starting to make its appearance in Burundi, we have decided to cancel large gatherings as a precautionary measure. Which means we have had to restructure the way in which we continue to serve the people in our surrounding communities. Today we are trying to distribute supplements and see our malnourished children in one catchment area.

After a double check at the gate ticking off all the items on our list, we are on our way to Gashasha, one of the most populated collines in the Village Health Works catchment area. It is relatively close, about a 40-minute drive away from the VHW site. We arrive in a cleared market place and are welcomed by our community health workers and many women with their children. Wet set up and Melchiade briefs everyone on how the morning will go. Everyone needs to wash their hands and try to wait their turn with some distance between them.

One by one, women hand over their medical booklet and place themselves and their child on the weighing scales. Children’s heights are recorded and their right upper arm is measured with MUAC tape (mid upper arm circumference tape) which is an indicator of growth. After a brief interview and obtaining anthropometric measures to assess each child’s growth almost all the women proceed to seeing Ada. She meticulously looks through her note book, jots down information then hands them each an 8.4 kg bag of enriched flour powder.

Women keep arriving throughout the morning, as they cover quite a distance on foot to get there, however, it is closer than the alternative. “This saves me a lot of time and money,” says Denise, far left. “Sometimes going to Kigutu is a whole day, sometimes we women only reach home after dark and then we have so much to do.” Denise is 24 and gave birth to her first child in VHW’s Kigutu clinic in January 2019.

In Burundi, 57% of children under five are malnourished. Dozens of women and children depend on us for sustenance and to keep their children’s development in check. Quite a few women themselves are not well and therefore are unable to breastfeed. Hence these regular distributions of enriched porridge are vital. Janet, above right, started coming to the VHW clinic for her ultrasound and antenatal appointments in 2019. In October 2019, she gave birth to Wilson in the ambulance on the way to the clinic!

“I was a little worried that the distribution would stop,” says Janet, with five-month-old Wilson on her lap.

“That you are coming here is so good. Keep coming to us, even after all this distancing is over, it is better for us… but of course we will still come to Kigutu if necessary.” She thanks us again, selects the photos that she likes best and then joins the few women who are left in line for their portion of enriched porridge, so vital to her own nutrition.

By late noon, we are back on the road. It went well. Now we need to figure out away to do this for our other collines.