I realized that most, if not all, of my blog entries cover how malnutrition affects sub-Saharan Africa. However, chronic malnutrition is a crisis that affects every single region of the world. I recently came across an article that stated, “India has more hungry people – and the highest burden of child malnutrition – than any country in the world.” In India, nearly half of children under the age of 5 are underweight compared to Nigeria, where only 5% of this population is underweight. From their day of birth, 30% of children in India are already on the track to suffering from malnutrition as they are born underweight. By the time they reach five, 44% will be underweight and 48% have stunted growth due to malnutrition.
However, the interesting part is that in my research of Plumpy’nut’s use in India, I learned that in 2009, the Indian government actually blocked UNICEF from distributing Plumpy’nut. Government officials felt that hot-cooked, locally produced meals were a better alternative to “foreign imported,” nutrient-enriched, ready-to-eat foods. In an address to the Indian Parliament on June 4, 2009, Dr. Arun Gupta, regional coordinator of International Baby Food Action Network, stated, “Malnutrition has emerged as a major health challenge needing urgent response. Hence the nutrition delivery programme will be comprehensively revamped to bring it under the watch of panchayat institutions and move to provision of hot cooked meals.”
The Indian government asked UNICEF to remove all Plumpy’nut from the country after its distribution began without official approval. Evidently, UNICEF was following World Health Policy (WHO) guidelines, which support the use of Plumpy’nut, rather than India’s hunger relief protocols. Research shows that Plumpy’nut more effectively treats malnutrition in its most severe stages than feeding a child a hot meal. In just one week, Plumpy’nut can a malnourished child can gain one to two pounds! An option to explore would be to produce Plumpy’nut locally in India. Nutriset, the company that created Plumpy’nut, has been active in promoting local production. Plumpy’nut has already been recognized as Africa’s miracle food, could it be the saving grace for children in India too?