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Burkina Faso: Tackling malaria and waterborne diseases in rainy season
In Burkina Faso, climate change is exacerbating a deeply concerning situation for people, whose precarious living conditions have already deteriorated due to an ongoing security and humanitarian crisis. The country is experiencing heavy rains, accompanied by whirlwinds or tornadoes, which cause damage and flooding even in the driest regions. During the rainy season, stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes who spread malaria.
How we respond to malaria
Between January and August 2021, we treated more than 128,000 cases of malaria in just a few intervention areas, which illustrates the impact the disease has on communities during the rainy season.
Peak infections with Plasmodium – the parasite that causes malaria in humans – usually occur during the period July-August.
“Malaria cases remain up until October, and even beyond, in some places the epidemic curb only starts decreasing in February or March,” says Dr Ousmane Ouedraogo, MSF medical support in the North and Boucle du Mouhoun regions.
In 2020, more than 11 million cases of malaria were recorded in health facilities in the country, with close to 4,000 deaths, according to the National Malaria Control Program.
Added to this is the risk of dengue fever, also known as “tropical flu” (a disease transmitted by the bite of the tiger mosquito), towards the end of the year.
In mid-September, 2,506 suspected cases of dengue and 1,265 probable cases had been announced by the Ministry of Health (MoH).
Our teams deploy proactive emergency response to seasonal health peaks.
"In 2020, more than 11 million cases of malaria were recorded in health facilities in the country, with close to 4,000 deaths, according to the National Malaria Control Program"
“When the rains come, people experience a difficult period. We stand ready every year for peak malaria season,” says Dr Michel Madika, MSF’s medical coordinator in Burkina Faso.
“Our teams in the projects work as much as possible to support the seasonal chemoprophylaxis activities implemented by the MoH, or to help in the distribution of mosquito nets, as well as taking care of the sick,” says Dr Madika.
Responding in the Djibo district
In the town of Djibo in the Sahel region the rains came late this year. As a result, we are preparing to expand our response to support two additional advanced health posts, in addition to the two already supported.
With more than 228,000 displaced people in Djibo, nearly one-fifth of whom are under the age of five, the city now has more displaced people than its local population.
The surrounding insecurity and the demographic pressure on the city limit access to healthcare more and more each day.
However, a few months ago, a mortality survey conducted between January and February 2021 in the villages of the Djibo district showed that malaria is the leading cause of death for displaced and indigenous people in the area.
It accounted for nearly one-quarter of deaths among children under five years of age recorded in the previous 12 months, and one-tenth among those over five years of age.
“Dirty water is dangerous, but we have no other choice”
In addition to the threat of malaria and dengue, people are exposed to water-borne diseases due to the damage caused by inclement weather and difficulties in accessing drinking water.
“We know that dirty water is dangerous, but what should we do?” says Aïbata, a mother of four, living in one of the three sites for internally displaced people in the town of Barsalogho.
“We can collect the water from the rain that falls from the sheets for cleaning and drinking. After three rains, the sheets are clean,” says Ouedraogo Assèta, a resident of Barsalogho.
“It saves me from having to walk for five kilometers to get drinking water.”
According to the WASH Cluster in Burkina Faso, in June 2021 the number of people with access to an acceptable standard of water was 264,149 people out of 1,235,000 – only 21 per cent.
As a result, in areas impacted by humanitarian and security crises, some displaced people use water points infected by open defecation, latrines washed away by bad weather and other kinds of dirty water.
The WASH Cluster’s data also shows that only 16 per cent of people in Burkina Faso have secure and adequate access to functional and secure latrines.
For Seko Ouedraogo, MSF’s health promotion supervisor in Barsalogho, although people are informed of the risks, they are constrained by the shortage of water.
“We are educating people about hygiene and the risks associated with using dirty water for household work. They are aware of the dangers, but have no other choice.”
These widespread risks create the perfect conditions for water-borne diseases such as diarrhea, hepatitis E and cholera, on top of pulmonary and dermal diseases caused by overcrowding and high humidity in some shelters.
A country shaken by constant waves of internal displacement
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been plunged into a security and humanitarian crisis, causing a dramatic deterioration in the basic living conditions of people, particularly in the Sahel, the East, the Centre-North and the North – the country’s most impacted regions.
"In August 2021, more than 1.4 million people were internally displaced in Burkina Faso"
As a result the country is shaken by constant waves of internal displacement, making this crisis the fastest growing in the world.
In August 2021, more than 1.4 million people were internally displaced in Burkina Faso.
MSF teams are currently operating in five regions in Burkina Faso, providing primary and secondary healthcare to displaced people and host communities.
These teams also support the medical referral system for the most critical cases and provide psychological care.
In some areas, MSF logistics teams are also providing free clean water to people by rehabilitating old boreholes or building new ones.