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Reversing malnutrition a spoonful at a time

Swollen bellies, orange hair, listlessness and dull eyes -- these are the traits of child malnutrition in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and where roughly one of every three children is chronically malnourished.

To try to change that statistic, Patricia A. Wolff, M.D., associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, founded Meds & Food for Kids (MFK) in 2004, after she saw that medications and small amounts of the local staples rice, beans and corn weren't enough to nourish children back to health.

MFK works to combat childhood malnutrition and related diseases in northern coastal Cap Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city, by giving Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to malnourished children between 6 months and 5 years old. The mixture, known to Haitians as "Medika Mamba," or peanut-butter medicine, is a nutrient-rich mixture of peanuts, sugar, oil, vitamins, minerals and powdered milk. It is distributed in plastic containers for families to feed their children at home and can be stored for several months.

Children start to show visible signs of improvement about 1-2 weeks after receiving the peanut-butter mixture, becoming more active and growing new black hair. One course of the six-week treatment, which can be enough to renourish the child, costs under US$100.

MFK primarily targets toddlers -- a critical stage of development. In Haiti, mothers are responsible for providing food for the family, although many spend their days at the market selling produce or planting crops. While their mothers are away, children are expected to fend for themselves. Once home, mothers nurse infants, and older children eat what little food there is. Toddlers are often left out because they are too small and too weak to compete with older siblings for something to eat.

Following a full course of treatment with RUTF, children have more energy and are able ma
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Contact: Beth Miller
millerbe@msnotes.wustl.edu
314-286-0119
Washington University School of Medicine
4-Aug-2006


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