Sunday, February 6, 2011


Kwashiorkor, the name for that awful, classic condition of starvation in children: distended belly, orange-tipped hair, comes from Ga, a language in Ghana. It means « the illness the baby gets, when the second baby comes». Meaning, it is the illness babies get when they are no longer, if ever, exclusively breastfed. Weaning is a critical time for an infant in the developing world. While breastmilk should safely provide all the nourishment a newborn will need, after six months it will no longer be enough on its own. With the introduction of other foods and water, comes the possibility of also introducing bacteria and of not providing enough vitamins and minerals through solid food.

Malnutrition has long been a global health issue. Poor nutrition in infancy has life-long effects. When entire generations of children are affected, it has community-wide effects.

Plumpy´nut is one solution that is gaining ground. It is essentially vitamin-packed peanut butter, high in calories and nutritional value. It was invented by a French doctor. UNICEF currently purchases 90% of the product to use in feeding programs around the world. It is not meant to be a constant nutritional supplement, but rather an emergency food to bring children back from the brink of acute malnourishment. This New York Times piece on the product nicely explains the product´s history and use in The Peanut Solution.

The article also gently points out the controversy of a product like this being for-profit. While UNICEF distributes it to patients for free, UNICEF must purchase it from the company that makes it and holds the patent. That company makes quite a lot of money. Is this wrong? Or is this just the way the world works? The article addresses these difficult questions.

Related Post:

Breastfeeding in the Developing World

1 comment:

Manuel said...

Dear Leila,

This is Manuel Ernesto, 'mano Ernesto, from Monapo,Nampula, Mozambique. I really appreciated your blog and all amazing news in it.

As you like to surprise people with Portuguese, so do I with some English.

Please write to me at

I look forward to receiving your email soon.