The Burundi Red Cross Society’s Humanitarian Hotline provides critical referral services to callers 24-hours a day
By Rita Maingi/OCHA ROSEA
Bujumbura – May 2017
Daphrose sits quietly in a Burundi Red Cross Society vehicle, sceptical that the 3-hour trip from her village Giteranyi in Muyinga Province to Gitega city in northern Burundi will change her life for the better. “I have tried many things to treat this fistula complication for seven years,” she explains. As she enters the UNFPA supported Umururi Center in Gitega Province she says “I have resigned my fate to God.”
Daphrose suffered from obstetric fistula, which she developed during childbirth. The condition is caused by prolonged obstructed labour without medical attention and its consequences are devastating. Her neighbour, Bagaza, had heard of the Burundi Humanitarian Hotline on a local radio station. The advert encouraged listeners to call 109 to report concerns relating to health, nutrition, natural hazards and gender-based violence.
Bagaza thought about Daphrose’s suffering: unable to go about her daily chores and stigmatized by her community. He called the 24-hour hotline and reported her condition. The next day, the Burundi Red Cross Society made arrangements with the MSF hospital to transport Daphrose to Gitega for specialized surgery and treatment.
“Umururi Center has partnered with the hotline to refer people suffering from fistula. We treat an average of thirty cases each month,” says Ngendakumana, the head nurse at the hospital.
Daphrose’s surgery is successful and for the first time in seven years, she no longer suffers from the crippling condition.
“Today I am healed. I can lead a normal life again,” she says beaming with joy.
UNFPA through the funding of the Kingdom of Belgium supported the reparation of 148 cases of fistula (with a 98% success rate) and the social reinsertion of 104 women treated. Referrals made by the Burundi Humanitarian Hotline have improved many lives since its inception in October 2015. The hotline provides a two-way communication with vulnerable communities and helps aid workers to better understand the humanitarian situation in Burundi.
The Hotline was launched by OCHA, World Vision, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Burundi Red Cross Society to make humanitarian action more effective and to enhance accountability in the wake of Burundi’s political crisis.
“Key to the proper functioning of the hotline was the establishment of a smooth referral system that enables callers to access specialized services offered by UN agencies and civil society organizations,” says Dirk-Jan Omtzigt, OCHA Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa’s Head of Office a.i. “Overall, the referral system has worked well.”
The eight telephone operators housed by the Burundi Red Cross Society receive an average 25 calls per day. The hotline has handled nearly 5,000 calls so far. 
Many calls are protection-related: people in search of disappeared relatives, internally displaced persons seeking to trace family members and callers fearing for their lives. Calls to the hotline have prompted food distribution by the World Food Programme (WFP) and partners to displaced people in Kirundo Province after the prolonged dry season, as well as to communities affected by landslides in Bujumbura Rural. Hotline operators have also provided emergency medical referrals during childbirth.
All queries are logged and referred to organizations that can provide appropriate and timely assistance. Analysis from the hotline was also integrated into the Burundi: Humanitarian Needs Plan for 2017. Hotline’s performance is monitored with the support of the Australian High Commission in Nairobi and the UN-administered Central Emergency Response Fund. The Burundi Red Cross Society says it will continue to integrate the hotline into its existing programmes to improve accountability and to save lives.
“The hotline has had a life-changing impact for so many people across Burundi,” Anselme Katiyunguruza the Secretary General of the BRCS. “It shows what the humanitarian community can do when it comes together to provide integrated assistance.”