By Sarah Oughton in Burkina Faso
Ouilimatou Diko, 21 months old, knows little about the bad rainy season, drought and insect infestations which led to poor harvests in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso where he lives, but he does know hunger.
As he lies, listless, in his grandmother’s lap he does not look like a child who is nearly two years old. When his mother became sick a month ago, she gave him to his grandmother Fatima to look after.
Fatima, 52, has been doing her best, bringing Ouilimatou to the Burkinabe Red Cross health post in her village, Peguense, where he receives a vitamin and mineral enhanced porridge.
“I’ve been trying to follow the Red Cross instructions about caring for him,” Fatima says. “But now he has diarrhoea and it won’t go away.”
This complication has caused Ouilimatou’s health to deteriorate rapidly and the Red Cross nurse referred him to the health centre, which is 15km away, as he needs to get more intensive care. However, getting there is not easy.
In the heat and sand it’s too far for Fatima to walk carrying her grandson, and it’s not easy for her to leave her duties in the home and the needs of the rest of her family. People here do not have cars and there is no public transport. Fatima needs someone with a donkey and cart who will take her, but a week has already gone by and every day that passes puts Ouilimatou at greater risk.
Peguense is one of 23 villages with a health post to treat malnourished children run by the Burkinabe Red Cross, supported by the Belgian Red Cross.
For the most severe cases, such as Ouilimatou’s, the Red Cross refers children to the nearest health centre for more intensive treatment.
However, the staff and volunteers play a vital role in these remote communities. For the majority of the malnourished children who receive the porridge, enhanced with vitamins and micronutrients, it is enough to keep them alive and healthy, without their families having to find the means to get them to a health centre.