Sunday, October 11, 2009

Plumpy'nut - A Ready-To-Use Therapeutic Food

Earlier this year, I blogged very briefly about a new RUTF (ready-to-use therapeutic food). It was a peanut butter based paste enriched with micro-nutrients to help treat malnourished children in the third world. This paste has now emerged as Plumpy'nut and it is saving lives.

Millions of children around the world now owe their lives to this paste that is never advertised and is relatively unknown outside of disaster areas.

The sweet paste is a mix of peanut butter, vegetable oils, powdered milk, sugar, vitamins and minerals. It is the equivalent of royal jelly, acai berries and chocolate combined in a single-serving package that little hands can use themselves. It requires no mixing, no water, and no cooking – just open a corner of the package and squeeze contents into mouth.

Amazingly, all this life-saving nutrition costs just 85p ($1.40)

A story from the Guardian shows how radically Plumpy’nut is changing lives:
One month ago, says Jirma (a health worker), both Barwaco and Mohamed were at death's door. Their muscles were wasting, their hair was turning orange, and they were showing sure signs of marasmus, a type of malnutrition caused by a diet deficient in protein and carbohydrates. When Jirma first saw them he feared for their lives.

Now, with the Plumpy'nut provided by Irish charity Concern Worldwide, they have recovered nearly 10% of their body weight – the difference between life and death for a young child. In another week or two they will move on to a corn and soya blend flour and in two months they should have recovered completely.

Just 10 years ago, their chances of survival would have been slim unless they had been admitted with their mother to a specialized clinic. The severe malnutrition they have experienced may yet lead to stunting and possibly brain damage, but they will survive without ever knowing how close they came to death.

These are just two of the lives out of the 100 million that the UN (United Nations) estimates have been left hungry and malnourished this past year due to global recession, high food prices and worsening environmental disasters.

Land on the Kenya/Ethiopia border that should be full of crops and grazing livestock is now baked hard thanks to the third major drought Kenya has suffered in less than eight years.

In many families a typical day’s food consists of a breakfast of tea with no sugar. Lunch and dinner are combined into one meal in late afternoon consisting of thin gruel of maize flour with a few beans and a little salt. There will not be enough to stop anyone feeling hungry. There is definitely nothing like adequate nutrition present; and, what little food supplies are on hand will be gone in a matter of days.

The world is officially losing the battle to feed its people. There are more malnourished at this point in time than ever before in history. The UN says it expects 642 million people in Asia and 265 million in sub-Saharan Africa (over one billion people) will go hungry this year. A new World Bank report predicts a further 25 million children could be hungry by 2050. Notice that none of these reports mention the poorest of the poor in the more developed countries such as Canada, United States or European nations.

"A four-decade positive trend of nations pulling themselves out of hunger has been reversed," says Josette Sheeran, head of the UN's World Food Programme, which provides emergency food for more than 100 million of the most vulnerable people.

"Poor households all over the developing world are eating fewer and less nutritious meals, and many are cutting back on healthcare and schooling for children. Unless the world responds, we are in danger of losing a generation to hunger and malnutrition. We have the know-how, the tools and the technology to feed the world. Let history not say of our generation that we let the opportunity of ending hunger slip through our fingers."

"The situation here is not good," says Koki Kaylo, Concern's nutritionist in northern Kenya, on the frontline of the growing crisis.

"Acute malnutrition rates among children under five are over 20% in some areas – well above the 15% emergency threshold. We have seen 300 cases of severely malnourished children like Barwaco and Mohamed in just a few months. Normally you might expect to see only 200 in a year. The situation will certainly get far worse by February [when the next crops can be expected].

"People are eating nothing but maize porridge now. That's just carbohydrates and leads to oedema, water retention, swollen legs. It's the beginning of starvation. Here you mainly see the wasting of muscles. This is very common already."

Malnutrition is known to lead to stunting of growth, brain impairment, frailty, attention deficit disorder and worse. The situation is becoming ever more dire as time goes on. The World Food Programme is nearly $3 billion in donations and is having to close offices, cut operations, reduce staff and slash rations to millions of people who have no way of making up this food through any other means. Hungry people become even hungrier.

The UN has reduced its daily minimum caloric needs from 2,100 calories to 1,050. This is the absolute bare minimum for a healthy diet – something that many in the developing world don’t obtain. In case you’re wondering – 1,050 calories is approximately the equivalent of three tins of baked beans.

Fatima with two of her children and her entire food store: one sack of scrawny maize stalks that a neighbour gave her. Photograph: John Vidal.

Global warming, climate change and a global economic crisis have once again taken their toll on those who can least afford it.

UN food supplies very seldom get to everyone in need. Politics plays a major role in who gets aid and who doesn’t. In Mathare slum (the second largest slum in the country) in Nairobi, nearly 800,000 people live in desperate poverty in a maze of tin shacks. The chances of food being distributed in this slum by the government are practically nil.

Help is left to charities, churches and individuals. Magdaline Gitahe of the Redeemed Gospel says, "They have little idea of the size of the problem. There is far more hunger than there was just a year ago. Maize used to cost 40 shillings [34 pence {$0.58}] a pack last year; now it costs 200 [£1.70 {$2.83}]. Sugar was 50 [42p {0.80}]; now its 115 [98p {$1.80}].

"Bread milk, flour, salt – everything has gone up. People are cutting back on food every way they can. We take porridge without sugar, tea is no longer a priority, and instead of buying a big bag of sugar we buy little ones. Water has become very expensive. Last year the government gave out some food. This year we have had nothing. More and more hungry people are coming to us for the first time. Children are dropping out of school because they have empty stomachs. We cannot keep up," says Gitahe.

Food prices have nearly tripled; and, these people have no way of increasing their incomes (if they even have one). The lack of adequate nutrition creates health issues which are not only expensive (and probably unobtainable); but, it could cause any wage earners to lose those wages due to ill health and inability to continue working.

However, many lives are now being saved thanks to Plumpy’nut. The clinics give these packages to mothers who are able to take them home. This eliminates the need for the mothers to stay at the clinic with the child while they are being treated; and, the packages nourish the adults as well.

Via Guardian

A Plumpy'nut video:

A documentary regarding Plumpy'nut:


Kathi said...

P - You and your readers may want to see what Univera is doing toward relief for malnourished with Ageless Essentials for free. I know that site shows our contribution to school children in the States (Mississippi) with incredible results in test scores and absenteeism. I'm not sure if it has info on the plane load Stephen Cherniske sent to Tsunami survivors and the neat story of how the first batch was ready to go to company leaders (Univera) when someone showed up asking for help so Stephen diverted the tractor trailer load to the airport to ship out.

Essentials was formulated with relief in mind. Nano technology is used to break the molecules up so small that it is essentially pre-digested entering almost instantly into the blood stream, making it perfect for relief, elders and children. In 3.3 oz there is the equivalent of a 1200 calorie complete organic meal in about 200 calories. More info at my site,

M and M said...

We're sisters in the Plumpy'Nut arena. Good to read you here - and thanks for spreading the word. I'm a Plumpy Fanatic!!!!