UNV volunteers improve health care services for children in Burundi

by Amina Said

Kamenge, Burundi: Splattered with paint, UNV volunteers at the Roi Khaled Hospital in Kamenge, north of Bujumbura, step back to contemplate the result of their hard work. For days they have been working on renovating one of four paediatric wards at the hospital, including everything from overhauling the sanitation facilities to repairing mosquito nets and crumbling walls, as well as organizing donations of medicine.

On the occasion of the International Day of Volunteers 2006, the United Nations Volunteer programme (UNV) in Burundi organised volunteers to renovate the dilapidated facilities of a local health institution. The project developed from the idea of harnessing voluntary capacity to benefit children as a vulnerable sector of society.

The project is good news for the young patients and their mothers, who had to tolerate the desolate conditions for years. Said one mother, "My child already is ill; I don't want him to get another infection here."

UNV Programme Manager Alejandra Castillo Ibarra said, "We wanted to raise awareness of the role volunteerism can play in improving the health and sanitation conditions for children, and thus contribute to the recovery of the young patients being treated in this hospital."

UNV worked together with the Network of Burundian Associations and local NGOs, while the Engineering Section of the United Nations Mission in Burundi assessed the material requirements and implemented the technical work. A Pakistani Field Hospital also joined in, making a substantial donation of medicines to help address the two most frequent ailments the children suffer from: malaria and respiratory infections.

The project is planned in four phases over the period of one year, during which all four paediatric wards will be renovated. Renovation of the first two wards was conducted in December 2006 and March 2007, and the remaining two will be renovated in July and December this year.

According to Dr. Liévin Nsabiyumva, Manager of the Roi Khaled Hospital, "This renovation effort was direly necessary and has made a distinct improvement in the quality of health care we provide. We have taken ownership for the project, and will sustain the process by also renewing equipment, providing regular maintenance and raising awareness of the importance of hygiene and good health care facilities."

Walking through the two wards that have been renovated so far, an aura of cleanliness and hygiene prevails. But beyond that, one can see the impact that this volunteer activity has had on the attitudes of staff, patients and their families; an awareness that collective volunteer efforts have made a distinctive improvement in their lives.

UNV works to strengthen health care systems and institutional capacity for effective service delivery, improve the quality of health care and raise awareness on critical health issues through volunteerism.

Every year, more than 10 million children die worldwide before they reach the age of five. Some of these deaths are directly caused by illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria; others are caused indirectly by conflict and HIV/AIDS. Malnutrition, poor hygiene and lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation contribute to more than half of these deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls this the invisible health crisis - two thirds of these deaths are preventable. The theme of this year's World Health Day, observed on 7 April, is "Invest in health, build a safer future".