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.