A Brilliant Solution for a Sticky Situation
In the United States, the thought of peanut butter conjures images of lunchtime sandwiches, midday snacks, and the occasional sweet treat, but for children in underserved populations around the world, peanut butter means survival.
In Haiti, a super-fortified peanut butter called Medika Mamba, or “peanut butter medicine” in Haitian Creole, is helping severely malnourished children restore their health within three to five days.
Bringing a peanut-based nutritional intervention to Haiti was the idea of Dr. Patricia Wolff, a pediatrician and clinical professor of pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. She embarked on a mission to drastically improve the lives of children in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
In August of 2003, she established Meds and Food for Kids (MFK), an organization that uses our favorite sticky snack to nurse malnourished toddlers back to health. The special recipe does not have quite as snappy a name as peanut butter – officially it’s called Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF).
This energy dense peanut butter paste is blended with powered milk, sugar, vegetable oil, and essential vitamins and minerals. This miracle food requires no refrigeration, no cooking, and can be stored for months without spoiling. Last year, almost 4,000 kids were fed using over 100,000 pounds of RUTF. The organization plans to double its production in 2010.
“This is a pretty major miracle,” said Dr. Wolff. “We’ve had to be extremely persistent to make this happen but we have a great group of people—great volunteers and Haitian employees who have really helped us a lot.”
In Haiti, 13 to 21 percent of the children are malnourished, and 129 of every 1,000 children will die before the age of five. A country built on a history of strength and perseverance, and once brimming with natural resources, is now shattered by political strife, violence, and natural disasters, forcing many of its citizens to struggle on $1 a day.
With the help of hospitals, volunteers, medical clinics, and missionaries, MFK is able to distribute the food, administering its powerful medicine to mothers throughout the country. The initiative is also bolstering economic development – involving Haitian peanut farmers in the production of the product.
MFK builds on Project Peanut Butter founded in Malawi by Wolff’s colleague Dr. Mark Manary, a pediatrician at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Malawi. Project Peanut Butter now distributes RUTF in Sierra Leone as well.
RUTF boasts a 95 percent recovery rate for severely underfed children, and in 2007, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition recognized it as the most effective solution for treating children with severe acute malnutrition.
To date, the “Alive at Five” initiative has treated nearly 6,000 children. According to Dr. Wolff, over the next year, MFK hopes to expand into a larger factory (what will be its sixth location) and to begin making Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food, a milder formula of Medika Mamba used to prevent malnutrition.
Through a partnership with the Ministry of Health in Haiti, Meds and Food for Kids is aiming reach all of the country’s remaining 120,000 malnourished children, transform the ways in which health professionals treat Haitian children, and improve the practices of peanut farmers nationwide.
What do you think?
Meds and Food for Kids was affected by the recent peanut salmonella outbreak, and was forced to cease operations for almost a month until the entire organization could recover. If the world's food supply could be harmed by one bad seed, what should be done to guarantee more rigorous standards?Post your comments below: