Plumpynut - A Tool for Malnutrition

Plumpynut - A Tool for Malnutrition

A recent innovation called Plumpynut has achieved significant success in combating malnutrition in rural Sub-saharan Africa, where many conventional supplements fall short.
Photo Credit: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
Each 500-calorie foil sachet of Plumpynut is about the nutritional equivalent of a glass of milk and a multivitamin. Photo Credit: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
In the developing world, malnutrition is one of the single leading causes of infant and child mortality. According to UNICEF an estimated 4 to 5 million children under the age of 5 die annually from an inadequate diet.1 For years the aid community and researchers have been struggling to come up with a solution to this devastating problem. Prepared milk supplements and oral rehydration therapy have been the conventional approaches to the dilemma. Recently a French company, Nutriset, created a product that may just be the panacea that the world has been waiting for. This nutritional marvel is called Plumpynut.

Plumpynut is a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF)2 consisting of peanut paste, vegetable oil, and powdered milk fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. So profound are its benefits that it is being compared to penicillin. It's inexpensive, fast acting, and easy to use: very appropriate for fighting malnutrition in places such as Niger, Sudan, and Malawi.

So profound are its benefits that it is being compared to penicillin. It's inexpensive, fast acting, and easy to use.
The causes of malnutrition are as diverse as the regions where the problem occurs from gender relations to economic access to supplements and clean water. In many developing nations women often bare a substantial portion of the physical labor needs in the household. Because of this, mothers themselves are not receiving proper nutrition. These factors contribute to a significant reduction in breastfeeding of infants in the developing world.

Healthy development of infants, from birth until 6 months of age, depends on receiving essential micronutrients that is best supplied through breastfeeding. While alternatives to breastfeeding may be readily available in more developed countries, poor or rural areas are not so fortunate. In many regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America powdered milk is unsafe due to poor water supplies. Also in most villages, milk produced from livestock is too expensive and refrigeration is a luxury.

Once severe malnutrition has taken hold, the treatment has often meant admission to an inpatient facility where a trained staff administers prepared milk supplements or oral rehydration therapy. In the developing world these inpatient facilities are operating at capacity. Those in need of assistance must often travel many miles to reach the clinic. Once arriving they wait in line for several hours to finally receive treatment. Companies like Nurtiset and organizations like the World Health Organization are utilizing RUTF's, like Plumpynut, to address many of these problems.

In many regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America powdered milk is unsafe due to poor water supplies.
Plumpynut is practical and affordable, hence its viability in rural locales. It does not require refrigeration and it is easily dispersed. It is not necessary for trained staff to administer the paste. It does not quickly sour once opened and does not require careful preparation. Mothers can return home with their children soon after receiving their ration. Milk supplements though, require careful onsite preparation translating into long waits for those in need of assistance.

Small cups and squeeze packets of the paste are distributed in an outpatient situation by aid agencies; much in the same way sacks of rice and grain are dispersed. It has a shelf life of two years unopened, far longer than any alternative. Most children are restored back to health within a month's time. The total cost for a months supply is about 20 USD.

Further, Plumpynut is culturally and economically appropriate. A contributing factor to why Plumpynut is such an efficient innovation is that it relies on a resource already prevalent around the world; the peanut. Known as groundnuts in Africa, they are a staple food source throughout much of the developing world. In some regions of Africa there has been an over-abundance of peanuts just waiting for an invention like Plumpynut to come along and generate demand. And as far as food allergies to peanuts: it just doesn't seem to be as big of a problem in Africa as it is in America or Europe.
The total cost for a months supply, the amount needed for most cases of malnutrition, is about 20 USD.

The future use of Plumpynut looks very strong given the fact the company behind the product, Nutriset, has franchised Plumpynut to local producers. There are currently four independent producer sites in Africa that Nutriset has helped establish. These four sites are found in countries hit hardest by malnutrition: Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, and Ethiopia.3

Plumpynut has given the international community hope in the area of malnutrition. There is still a long way to go though before infant mortality rates significantly decrease. The key to fighting malnourishment will require a combination of efforts. Improvements in education and women's rights are critical. Also important is maintaining a steady supply of RUTF's to the developing world. Innovations like Plumpynut make that a much more achievable goal.


2Doctors Without Borders

3Plumpynut in the Field

Contributed by Brandon Gast, a writer for Global Envision. Brandon is an International studies major with a focus on African studies at Portland State University.

To read another Global Envision article about nutrition and child mortality, see Gender Equality and Child Survival Linked.

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