Because of the luck of the land, there are people in our world who are born into, live, and die in places with little water and less food. It is the children who suffer the most from malnutrition and the hardest thing in healing them is, ironically, getting them to eat when food is available.
The background: More than 850 million people live in a state of hunger. Malnutrition kills more people annually than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. The majority of the hungry live in the developing world, especially in India and sub-Saharan Africa.
Children suffer disproportionately: The United Nations says a child dies from the complications of malnutrition every five seconds. Bleakest of all, the number of humans enduring famine has not changed as the rest of the world has grown richer and the food supply more plentiful.
The solution: Nutriset, a private company in France founded by former African aid worker Michel Lescanne, has been selling food products to combat hunger and malnutrition since 1986. And it finally has a hit on its hands. Plumpy’nut, a patented nutritional supplement, was distributed to an estimated 500,000 children last year – double the number in 2005 and up from just 120,000 in 2004. One 3-ounce packet delivers 500 calories. Severely malnourished children can thrive on three or four a day.
The reason Plumpy Nut works so well is because the children love the taste. Plumpy Nut is also easy to prepare and requires no mixing or added water. You just open the foil pouch and feast!
Within two days, Hilinki’s weight has climbed from 4.6kg to 5kg (10lb to 11lb). She will stay at the clinic for a further three days and receive six meals a day. Nearly all of it will be plumpy’nut — a merging of the words peanut and plump — which can add as much as 1kg (2.2lb) a week to a hungry child’s weight.
“It is the only thing in this crisis that has acted quickly,” says an MSF nutritional assistant in a reference to the slow response of the international community to appeal after appeal ahead of the current tragedy in Niger.Near by, Absu, a four-year-old girl whose curly black hair is shot with streaks of blonde — one of the telltale signs of severe malnutrition — sits on a plastic sheet at the feet of her grandmother and also hungrily devours a plate of the apparently magic paste.
“She became sick some time ago — since last year we have not had enough to eat,” says Abu, her grandmother. “I have struggled every day to find her food, but nothing works like the stuff they have here.” Absu’s mother died two years ago giving birth to another child.
If you’re interested in Plumpy Nut and its effect in the field, please visit their website and wonder at the miracle found in peanut butter.