Micronutrients: Mothers Request Them 100% of the Time to Improve Family Nutrition
What if a child could significantly reduce his chance of developing mental retardation by putting salt on his food? Or if the simple act of eating bread could do more to prevent blindness than any other single intervention?
Imagine a world where every time a pregnant woman eats a tortilla or sprinkles seasoning on her food, she reduces the chances of her unborn child developing a debilitating or fatal birth defect by more than 50 percent. David Dodson founded Project Healthy Children in 2000 to create food fortification programs that improve the health of women and children around the world, every time they eat a meal.
Approximately one billion people around the world lack critical vitamins and minerals because they cannot get centrally processed foods, eliminating the opportunity to add these nutrients into their diet. Project Healthy Children serves vulnerable populations in Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, Haiti, Honduras, and Nepal.
“In Nepal, when you fortify the food in rural communities, the people feel healthier," Dodson said. "They are not suffering from a lack of access to vitamins and minerals. This simple preventative intervention makes women excited because they and their children simply feel so much better."
Dodson’s interest in micronutrients was ignited over ten years ago during a trip to Honduras with his wife. She was a board member of an organization working to repair surgically the cleft lip palates of thousands of children in the developing world. Cleft lip palate is a facial and oral malformation that occurs early in pregnancy and often is attributed to the mother’s poor nutrition.
Project Healthy Children was a winner in the Improved Nutrition: Solutions through Innovation competition. Dodson was invited to attend the GAIN Business Alliance Global Forum in Dubai, where he was able to make a presentation to the forum attendees, leading to a wealth of connections for Project Healthy Children.
"This event exceeded all of my expectations," he said. “I met so many people and made connections that would not have been possible outside this conference format.
"The forum allowed me to connect with one organization that hopes to work with us to better improve the distribution of our premix in many countries. Another organization gave me an idea for an interesting business model that I would have never considered. Yet another health initiative plans to partner with us to start a program in Nepal in the fall."
When Dodson realized that this problem could largely be prevented by giving mothers adequate vitamins and minerals, he embarked on a quest for a solution. Dodson put aside his professional focus on business to channel all of his energy into the Project Healthy Children after his research failed to uncover any organizations that had developed a strategy to deliver a micronutrient solution to governments and other institutions in the developing world.
Project Healthy Children enters a country only if the government has the political will and mindset to want to address on a broad scale the problem of vitamin and mineral deficiency. “When we go in a country we do a thorough nutrition survey to see what people eat, how much, and how they store it. We then match that with a food fortification strategy,” said Dodson. “You can fortify rice, sugar, cooking oil, legumes, or flour, to name a few pretty common items.”
This 100 percent acceptance surprised me eight years ago, but it doesn’t now. Just show me a mother who wants her kid to be born with a birth defect.
In many African and Asian countries, where rice is the food staple being consumed, the problem of vitamin and mineral deficiency is addressed through the use of an “ultrarice,” in which a vitamin and mineral enriched premix is sprinkled into bags of rice at a ratio of one grain of premix to every 200 grains of rice.
In Nepal, Project Healthy Children is piloting a simple device for small-scale electric millers to weigh and proportionately dispense nutrients into grain that is affordable, effective and accurate. Based on existing work with Stanford University, Dodson believes this mill device can be developed for as little as US $100. Its unique design is sensitive to the millers’ established daily routine and is conveniently integrated into the milling process.
“A local miller is enriching the food in cooperation and collaboration with the community," Dodson said. "There is no issue of taste or smell with these micronutrients.
"A mother will show up, for example, with an unmilled bag of wheat on her head. The miller give her the choice between an enriched project or one without vitamins and minerals, and 100 percent of the time the mother will chose the enriched product.
“The mothers get it. They’ve seen what happens when their sister died in childbirth. This 100 percent acceptance surprised me eight years ago, but it doesn’t now. Just show me a mother who wants her kid to be born with a birth defect.”
The simple device for fortifying wheat has a hopper that sits on top of a scale, not unlike the kind in your bathroom. As grain comes through the hopper, the weight decreases and the device calculates how much fortified premix to release. The device has a small screw which, when turned, allows the premix to trickle onto the wheat flour.
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