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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Malaria, Malnutrition and Micronutrients

I seem to be on a roll educating you, my blog readers, about my work. From the individual e-mails I’m getting (so many of you still seem hesitant to comment on my blogs for all the public to see) you seem to be interested. So I will continue in this vain today.

AED, my “new” company (in quotes because after 10 months I guess I’m not quite so new anymore), seems to like me. At least the folks in Washington have a lot of respect for my work – or so I’m told. That’s nice. I’m still working on warming to them. Pole pole (slowly, slowly) it seems to be getting better. I’m hoping that by the time I reach my one year anniversary I’ll be feeling good in my new corporate skin.

One of the things that attracted me to this project was that it also worked in the areas of child survival and malaria – two things I knew little about – but technical areas that could come in handy someday down the road in the event that they ever find a cure for HIV.

OK… I’m not holding my breath for a cure for HIV. I imagine it won’t happen in my lifetime. But the truth is that annually many more adults and children die of malaria and diarrheal diseases than HIV. In the age of HIV and avian flu and SARS, childhood diarrhea has almost disappeared from the priority list. But never fear. We at AED are working on it.

Recently the senior VP in charge of my division (of about 400 employees) came to Tanzania to work with T-MARC and also to check up on AED’s other projects. I had the honor of traveling with her up north to Arusha to meet with major regional players in malaria, malnutrition and micronutrients.

Malaria

AED has a project called NETMARK which is charged with (among other things) brining new technologies in insecticide-treated nets to the market. Tanzania has four large net manufactures – one of which puts out 600,000 treated nets per year. We went to visit the factory. Here are some photos:


These are the looms








This is where they are stitching the nets together.
















Here are the nets ready to go. These were headed to a refugee camp in Darfur



Malnutrition

AED has a project called A to Z designed to work on nutrition issues. There is a whole big field of nutrition people I never realized were out there. Mostly they do therapeutic feeding (when a child is so malnourished that their parent has to bring them to live for a month in a feeding center). We are evidently considering supporting a French nutritional product that is meant for the not-so-malnourished that they need to be in a feeding center set, but malnourished enough that they need nutritional intervention under medical supervision. Their product has the very gross-sounding name (to me) of PlumpyNut. Yuck.

Another project that I work on about 5% of my time is called POUZN. POUZN is trying to introduce zinc for diarrhea treatment for children. Believe it or not, the proper dose of zinc early in a diarrhea episode can decrease childhood mortality by up to 21%. That’s a pretty effective intervention. We will be introducing a new socially marketed product in June called PedZinc. We are working on the materials right now… but look out for marketing materials with happy, healthy, plumpy babies.

Micronutrients

I bet you think that the reason we Westerners are so healthy (well free of the kinds of diseases that people here in Africa get) is because of our diets. Well, you’d be right. But it is not necessarily because we eat so many vegetables and drink the perfect amount of milk. A huge piece of it has to do with the fact that our food is fortified with tons of vitamins and minerals. Next time you have breakfast, read the cereal box and the milk. They put in extra calcium, vitamin D, various vitamin Bs, vitamin A, etc. Our food is filled with added vitamins and minerals, so much so, that most of us have no need to think about supplementing our diets with Flintstone’s multi-vitamins.
That was true for me until I moved here and our local pediatrician suggested giving the kids vitamin A drops twice a year and deworming the kids once a year - but that is another story.

Vitamin A deficiency alone contributes in a huge way to childhood mortality in Africa. Iodine deficiencies cause mental health problems. I’ve already told you about zinc.

In any case, AED has a project called Africa 2010 which works on getting flour, salt, and other basic products fortified and then working with factories to teach them how to use the technology involved in fortification.

It is so simple really, and has the potential to save so many lives.

So there you have it… Some other stuff that I'm working on.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Becky said...

Its really exciting to hear about these structural interventions for micronutrients. You probably know that the EPI programs have added vitamin A to their immunization programs and campaigns. I have seen Vit A given out during measles epidemics to prevent complications of measles. and now as a parent with two picky eaters, I am so thankful we have all those fortified foods!
cool stuff!
you go hally,
Becky

5:53 AM  
Anonymous pediatric emr said...

Interesting topic! These Malaria, Malnutrition and Micronutrients are really the problems of many country. I wish there are better solution in this problems.

-mel-

6:03 AM  

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