Hope for World Hunger: Plumpynut
The daunting issue of world hunger is not usually associated with hope. According to a CBS news magazine 60 Minutes report, malnutrition claims the life of one child every six seconds. Considering that there are 86,400 seconds in each day and 31,556,926 seconds in every year, those numbers add up fast. It amounts to about five million children who die from this preventable cause every year.
In most parts of the world, milk is used to provide the necessary nutrients for growing children. However, many mothers in poor areas of the world cannot produce milk for their children because they themselves are not healthy enough, and they cannot buy milk because they have insufficient financial resources and electricity. They also cannot use powdered milk because most villages lack clean water.
The international aid agency Doctors Without Borders is offering hope to millions of malnourished children. The organization has developed a food supplement called Plumpynut that is helping to save lives. It’s made from peanut butter, powdered milk, and powdered sugar and is enriched with vitamins and minerals. It doesn’t require refrigeration. Priced at only $1 per daily ration, the equivalent of each serving is a glass of milk and a multivitamin. It takes just three weeks on Plumpynut for a malnourished child to regain his or her health.
The use of Plumpynut in Niger has shown dramatic results. Africa, and the country of Niger in particular, have been the focus of Doctors Without Borders’ efforts with Plumpynut. A United Nations list of 177 developing countries ranked Niger as the least developed in the world. Child malnutrition is such a significant problem in the country, as the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes report explains, that most mothers have watched at least one child die. But in one region of Niger, efforts to provide the population with Plumpynut have shown to be extremely beneficial. In 2006, the region had the highest malnutrition rate in Niger. Thanks to the extensive distribution of Plumpynut, the region had the lowest rate just two years later.
Doctor Susan Shepherd, the pediatrician who runs Doctors Without Borders in Niger, reports that fewer children are being hospitalized, which is saving communities’ and the country’s resources. Mothers report that their children are not only surviving, but are thriving—their skin looks brighter, their appetites have improved, and they get sick less often. It’s no wonder that mothers trek for hours in darkness, risking their lives through dangerous territory in order to obtain Plumpynut. The 60 Minutes report shared that mothers in Niger even faced terrain filled with scorpions, spiders, and poisonous snakes to reach the vital food product. To obtain Plumpynut means to save the life of a child.
Despite the obvious good that Plumpynut is doing, a legal dispute clouds its positive impact. The French inventors of Plumpynut, called Nutriset, have patented the product to limit production to the developing world and to stop other companies from developed nations from competing. They claim that the patent protects the local and sustainable production of the product in developing countries so that their governments will eventually be able to independently provide nutrition for their citizens. On the other hand, other organizations (namely, two American non-profit organizations), argue that this methodology denies millions of children humanitarian aid; only 1 to 2 million children receive treatment for malnutrition out of the 26 million who suffer from it. The discrepancy still lingers and a solution has yet to be reached.
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