Burkina Faso: nutritional crisis severely affecting children trapped in Tougan

Burkina Faso: nutritional crisis severely affecting children trapped in Tougan

27 November 2023. The situation is worsening by the day for people living in Tougan, a town in the Boucle du Mouhoun region. An armed jihadist group has surrounded the town and cut off supply routes and main roads with dire consequences for the nutritional status of its children. Almost 20% of the children screened by Médecins Sans Frontières in this town in northwest Burkina Faso were found to be suffering from acute malnutrition.

Between 5 and 12 October, MSF teams were able to go to Tougan to assess the medical needs of its inhabitants – local people and the displaced alike. The new domestic humanitarian flights set up by UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service) facilitated the medical assessment conducted eight months after two MSF employees were killed in an attack on their vehicle near Tougan.

“Given that we had suspended activities in the area and the months of deprivation and violence suffered by Tougan’s inhabitants, we were expecting to find a very serious humanitarian situation. The results of the nutritional screening of 882 children under the age of five years showed that 19.7% were suffering from acute malnutrition and 9.6% from its most severe form. The evidence of the deterioration in the children’s nutritional status confirmed our fears,” explains Moctar Abass who is deputy head of MSF operations in Burkina Faso. Obtained by going door-to-door in neighbourhoods sheltering the most displaced people, the screening results point to a nutritional crisis well in excess of emergency thresholds.

Working in partnership with Burkina Faso’s health authorities, MSF is now preparing to ramp up the provision of treatment for malnourished children in Tougan. This will include supporting community health workers and activities in health centres and increasing the inpatient capacities to treat the sickest children. Drugs and stocks of ready-to-use therapeutic foods have also been flown in to assist Ministry of Health personnel who remain in the area. Around 36,000 displaced people are sheltering in Tougan in a country, which, according to the statistics provided by the national commission charged with registering refugees, is already hosting more than two million.

“People in Tougan tell us that they’re unable to cultivate their fields outside the town, they are almost entirely reliant on military convoys for food. Sadly, their situation is not unique. We have every reason to believe that other towns and villages that are also surrounded may be enduring similar degree of nutritional crisis,” Moctar Abass continues. ​

Since early 2023, people in the Boucle du Mouhoun have been caught between the fighting and attacks that have intensified in a region that up until then had been less affected than Est, Centre-Nord and Sahel1 by the conflict opposing Burkina Faso’s security forces and armed groups.Armed groups across the country have been using a brutal modus operandi to surround and cut off dozens of towns. The inhabitants of neighbouring villages are ordered to leave, attacked – and sometimes even massacred –, mines and other explosive devices are laid and no one is allowed in or out of the town they are targeting. Vehicles are checked and anyone daring to defy their orders is aggressed. Very quickly, food, drugs and basic necessities run out, prices shoot up and getting food in relies heavily on military convoys and humanitarian aid.

1 Regions of Burkina Faso


Hannah Hoexter Senior Press Officer, MSF UK



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