Country Office Spotlight

Drink Malawi Study Aims to Reduce Childhood Deaths

Every year 750,000 children die from diarrheal disease.  This means in Malawi, nearly one out of every five children will not live to see their fifth birthday.   What compounds the tragedy is that these diseases are preventable and treatable.

Most diarrheal disease-related deaths are due to dehydration.  Since 1978, there has been a standard Oral Rehydration Solution or “ORS” – a mixture of clean water, salt, and sugar to replace fluids and electrolytes.  This mixture is safe, effective, and inexpensive, and it can be administered quickly and easily with no special training.

So, why are so many children still dying?   It may be because mothers cannot get their children to drink ORS, because it tastes very salty, describing it as “drinking the ocean in glass.”  Many sick children reject the life-saving drink, too young to understand the fatal consequences.

Africare and the University of Malawi have teamed up to find a solution.  Through the DRINK MALAWI Project at The Institute for Child Wellness in Africa, and with support from the Jackson Kemper Foundation, TICWA investigators are assessing a fortified new formula* that is more pleasant-tasting and therefore likely to save more children.  The unique balance of salts and sugars with fast-absorbing citrate gives it a pleasant taste.  Through DRINK MALAWI, we believe that Africare and TICWA are on the brink of revolutionizing dehydration treatment and saving hundreds of thousands of children from a cruel, preventable death.

 

*In partnership with the DripDrop Foundation

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Helping Children’s Brains as well as their Bodies Recover from Malnutrition

Millions of children in Africa go hungry every year. These children suffer during the formative years of their physical and mental development.  Tragically, when a child’s body and mind are denied essential nourishment, they can face many consequences, from stunting to decreased IQ and learning challenges to death.

Health workers and researchers who have watched children suffer from life-threatening malnutrition, specifically severe acute malnutrition (SAM), have armed themselves with emergency treatment tools.  One such tool is Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food.  RUTF, as it is referred to, revolutionized the treatment of SAM for children in Africa a decade ago, saving an estimated 25 million lives to date.  Its widespread use doubled recovery rates from 45% to 90% for what often was a terminal condition in small African countries like Malawi.  When RUTF was developed, the emphasis was on reducing deaths and creating a food with a stable shelf life that promoted recovery and could be used at home.  RUTF was made from locally available crops – peanuts, palm oil, and soybeans.  Today, 3 million children with SAM are treated with RUTF annually.

While RUTF has proven effective in improving children’s physical recovery, recently the same Malawian investigators who developed RUTF believe that the current standard formula is inadequate to stimulate brain recovery.

Africare is working in partnership with Project Peanut Butter, Washington University, Cornell University, University of Texas, and the University of Malawi at The Institute for Child Wellness in Africa to test a new RUTF formula that can support physical growth and provide the fatty acids necessary for brain development. The clinical trial, funded by Unorthodox Philanthropy, Open Society, and Washington University, is testing a slight adjustment in the formula, using newly-available non-GMO high-oleic peanuts. The findings of this study could change the management of malnutrition around the world to emphasize mental development, as well as physical recovery, and create a new global protocol –protecting children’s bodies and minds from the life-long repercussions of malnutrition.

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Africare and Merck Partner to Build a Better Future for the Children of Africa

Africare and Merck & Co., Inc.* collaborated this year to continue our commitment to building bright, vibrant futures for Africa’s children.

Through the MSD Fellowship for Global Health, three Merck employees spent three months in Malawi with Africare to focus on the development of a five-year strategic plan for The Institute for Child Wellness in Africa (TICWA).   With expertise in strategic planning, clinical research, and communication & stakeholder engagement, the Merck Fellows developed a clear roadmap to accelerate TICWA’s success.

“After speaking to over fifty officials from local Ministries, academic institutions, NGOs, and the funder community, we were heartened to learn that the experts that live and breathe in this space see a tangible, palpable need for TICWA to fill in a large gap in global efforts to advance child development and wellness in resource-limited settings.  Africare, through TICWA, is uniquely positioned to drive important translational research to improve child wellness in Malawi and throughout Africa”.   – David Hauben, Merck Fellow.

Thanks to Merck, Africare has a stronger strategic plan to ensure that TICWA is well positioned to advance its mission to keep children well and help them thrive.  Our heartfelt thanks go out to Merck Fellows Shobhna Gopal-Truter, David Hauben, and Susie Wood for their invaluable contributions in Malawi.

 

* Known as MSD outside U.S. and Canada

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Africare’s Innovation Hubs: Creating Local Solutions to Local Challenges

In most African countries, a fever equals malaria. And this is true for kids too. However, new field tests for malaria are revealing that the majority of patients (and children) presenting with fever might not have malaria or malaria alone.  So what do we now do? How do we tell a child’s caregiver how best to help their child back to health if they are not malaria positive?

Africare is tackling this HUGE question that impacts most of sub-Saharan Africa at The Institute for Child Wellness in Africa’s Innovation Hub at the University of Malawi. Through cost-effective research, Malawian researchers are determining how many fevers have more than malaria at their root.

To support and encourage this type of local innovation, Africare, in partnership with Dalhousie University, has formed a local Innovation Hub that provides training and mentoring, cross-discipline collaboration, and seed funding to test out solutions in real world settings.  Too often in most of the continent, best practice and new evidence are not brought to bear in the community, because proposed changes are not locally-driven. The need to foster, mentor, and support local innovators to work on solving local problems has been recognized by African leaders as an urgent problem.  Lack of training, funding opportunities, and mentors have proven to be major obstacles.  Obstacles that Africare is working to overcome.

At TICWA, Innovation Hub teams are working to explore what they would consider the most pressing local issues for child survival and wellness.  Teams are granted modest seed funding, and then are mentored for a year to find community-based solutions to the local challenge they identified.

Current projects that are being tested at TICWA’s Innovation Hub include questions as diverse as figuring out how well homemade mosquito traps work to determining how many feverish under-five children at a health facility in Chikwawa, Malawi have more than just malaria.

Africare’s Innovation Hubs are equipping Africa’s innovators to tackle local challenges right at home.

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