Doctors Without Borders Warns:
More Food Will Not Save Malnourished Children
October 10, 2007
CONTACT: Doctors Without Borders
NEW YORK - October 10 – The international medical humanitarian
organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
today called for increased and expanded use of nutrient dense
ready-to-use food (RUF) to reduce the five million annual deaths
worldwide related to malnutrition in children under five years of age.
Current food aid, which focuses on fighting hunger—not on treating
malnutrition—is not doing enough to address the needs of young
children most at risk, MSF warned.
"It's not only about how much food children get, it's what's in the
food that counts," said Dr. Christophe Fournier, president of MSF's
International Council. "Without the right amounts of vitamins and
essential nutrients in their diet, young kids become vulnerable to
disease that they would normally be able to fight off easily. Calls
for increased food aid ignore the special needs of young children who
are at the greatest risk of dying."
RUFs, which come in individually wrapped rations, contain all the
necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that a young child needs.
This dense therapeutic food, which has milk powder, sugars, and
vegetable fats, can be produced and stored locally and transported
easily, and requires no refrigeration, making it ideal for use in hot
climates. It allows a child to recover from being malnourished and
catch up on lost growth. Being easy-to-use, mothers—not doctors and
nurses—are the main caregivers, meaning far more children at risk can
"In Somalia we are giving acutely malnourished kids packets of
ready-to-use food and we see them gain weight and begin thriving
within a couple of weeks," said Dr Gustavo Fernandez, MSF head of
mission in Somalia. "RUFs are practical to use in places like Somalia
where security is very bad. General food distribution is also needed,
but it is not going to be very effective to treat kids under three
Severe acute malnutrition in early childhood is common in large areas
of the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and South Asia -- the world's
"malnutrition hotspots." The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates
that there are 20 million young children suffering from severe acute
malnutrition at any given moment and MSF estimates that only three
percent of them will receive RUF in 2007.
Therapeutic RUF for only severely malnourished children, as current
WHO, World Food Program, and UNICEF guidelines recommend, is too
restrictive. Given its nutritional benefits, RUF has the potential to
address malnutrition at earlier stages and is far more effective than
fortified blended flour, which is normally distributed. MSF is
piloting a program using a modified RUF as a supplement to prevent
children from becoming acutely malnourished.
"Instead of waiting for kids to get gravely ill we decided to act
earlier," said Dr. Susan Shepherd, MSF medical coordinator, Maradi,
Niger. "We are piloting a program that gives RUF to all children under
three in at-risk communities so that they get the nutrients that are
missing in their normal diet."
Through this early treatment or prevention approach in Niger, MSF is
providing mothers with small containers of RUF as a supplement to
their normal diet. Early results from this ongoing project, which is
reaching more than 62,000 children, indicate that RUF is significantly
more effective than the traditional approach of supplying fortified
flours and cooking oil to mothers of young children.
MSF is calling for donors and UN agencies to urgently speed up the
introduction and expansion of RUF. This is going to take a new
allocation of funds to cover the cost of 750 million (approximately
$1.05 billion) to reach the most vulnerable. But it will also take a
realigning of food aid strategies with existing and newly developed
products that have the nutrition needed to cure malnourished children.
MSF has been treating malnutrition with therapeutic RUF since the
first products became available in the late 1990s, and in 2006 treated
more than 150,000 children with acute malnutrition in 22 countries.
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