Top ten most underreported humanitarian stories of 2007 - Expanded use of nutrient dense ready-to-use foods crucial for reducing childhood malnutrition

Monday, January 14, 2008

Acute malnutrition in early childhood is common in large areas of the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and South Asia — the world's malnutrition hotspots. Every year, malnutrition is associated with the deaths of five million children under the age of five. Recently, an effective response has emerged in the form of nutrient dense ready-to-use foods (RUFs) that can save the lives of acutely malnourished children.

These products come in the form of milk- and peanut-based pastes enriched with all the vitamins and nutrients needed for rapid recovery. And they do not require refrigeration or preparation, allowing most malnourished children to be treated with RUF at home. But so far these products are only available to a tiny fraction of the severely malnourished children who need them.

MSF urges international donors to support systematic purchasing and use of RUF in countries where it's needed. RUF also has the potential to prevent children from becoming acutely malnourished by treating at earlier stages. This means international food aid programs targeting young children must incorporate RUFs to treat less severe forms of malnutrition and to prevent acute malnutrition from developing in areas of high prevalence.

In Niger in 2007, MSF launched a pilot program using a modified RUF as a supplement to prevent some 62,000 children from becoming malnourished during the period of seasonal food shortages. The program has helped to stanch a rise in acute malnutrition in one of the country's high prevalence districts. In addition to calling for urgent scale up of RUF for children most in need, MSF is urging further efforts to use supplemental RUF to prevent children from becoming dangerously malnourished in the first place.

Source: Médecins Sans Frontières