Burkina Faso’s humanitarian crisis getting worse

In a camp for internally displaced persons in the city of Gorom-Gorom, in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, women gather to meet with MSF health promotion teams to discuss issues of access to health care. Picture: Mohamed El-Habib Cisse

In a camp for internally displaced persons in the city of Gorom-Gorom, in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, women gather to meet with MSF health promotion teams to discuss issues of access to health care. Picture: Mohamed El-Habib Cisse

Published Jul 1, 2022



Cape Town - Since 2015, people in Burkina Faso have been living through a security crisis that has caused widespread displacement and untold distress.

An estimated 1.9 million people have been forced to leave their homes, while more than 500 health facilities have closed or are operating at minimal capacity.

The humanitarian situation is becoming more worrying every week but is widely ignored internationally. As is often the case, the lack of media attention goes hand in hand with a lack of aid funding. ​

MSF teams are present at this mobile clinic site in Kaya (Centre-Nord region of Burkina Faso) where many internally displaced people and host populations come to seek care. In this health post, MSF teams provide primary health care.

Ousseini and his wife were displaced from their home in Silgadji, in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, and are now living in Kongoussi, 80km away.

“My wife was pregnant. I had to take her to Kongoussi by motorcycle to a health centre. In Silgadji we had no access to health care because the health centres were closed. The first people to leave when the conflict broke out were the nurses, and the health centres that remained open were very far away.”

In a context of increasing insecurity, the experience of Ousseini and his wife are similar to that of thousands of people who have fled violence in Burkina Faso. Displacement on a massive scale has dramatically increased people’s humanitarian needs and many communities – both displaced people and the host communities – are lacking many essentials, including health care.

Living in fear on a day-to-day basis, people often face difficulties even as they flee their homes.

Many roads are unsafe and people face the risk of being attacked while travelling. In several regions of the country, teams from international medical organisation Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have set up mobile clinics on the roads, as well as establishing advanced health posts in towns and villages, to provide people with free health care.

“We are also carrying out community-based activities to be as close as possible to the people, especially those living on the outskirts of towns or in rural areas far from the cities," said MSF medical co-ordinator Dr Michel Madika. ​

Despite their efforts, it can be hard for medical and humanitarian organisations to reach the people who need help, as travel can also be dangerous for aid workers.

In Djibo, a landlocked town in the Sahel desert region, MSF has had to suspend travel by its teams beyond the town itself for several months. The road between the capital, Ouagadougou, and Djibo is no longer safe due to checkpoints manned by armed groups, ambushes and improvised explosive devices planted on the roadside.

Unfortunately, this is the case in many of the places where MSF works in Burkina Faso. Even aid flights connecting towns and cities across the country are often suspended for weeks at a time due to insecurity. ​

The violence is having a negative impact on people’s access to basic social services. People fleeing their homes often arrive with nothing. For them, every consultation in a health centre brings the worry of how they will pay for it. ​

“Since I’ve been in Djibo, the cost of prescriptions is high and, as a displaced person, it’s difficult to pay,” said Belco, who left Baraboulé for the relative safety of Djibo. ​

Unable to afford medical care, Ousseini resorted to traditional healers.

"As I hadn’t seen a doctor, my only alternative was traditional healers and medicines sold in the market to treat myself,” he said.

As Madika points out, such alternatives are not safe, which is why it is essential that medical care is available free of charge. “We need other organisations to step up too and contribute to free health care, not only for children under 5 and pregnant women, but for all the people in the areas most affected by the conflict, because the needs are enormous,” he said.

“But how can free health care be guaranteed when Burkina Faso has so far only received 15% of the funding planned for 2022 in the humanitarian response plan?”

Some key figures of MSF in Burkina Faso since the beginning of 2022:

  • 365 694 medical consultations
  • 30 439 prenatal consultations
  • 5 395 medical referrals
  • 311 surgical interventions

Former MSF project co-ordinator Hama Amadou said: “Burkina Faso is now at the heart of the crisis in the Sahel and millions of people are suffering daily in a very volatile and complex context. In the town of Djibo, the current situation clearly highlights the changing security and humanitarian situation that has grown out of the crisis in Mali over recent years. I left the project I was co-ordinating in Dijibo six months ago, but reading the news on the most recent attack in early June and regularly chatting with colleagues who are still assisting the population there, I feel very sad and very concerned by the situation.”

Cape Times