Today and tomorrow (June 20–21, 2014), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is calling attention to the critical role that nutrition plays in ending preventable child and maternal deaths. The emphasis on nutrition is part of a larger social media campaign, 20 Days of Action for #MomAndBaby, in anticipation of a June 25 high-level forum, Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths.
Good nutrition is critical in preventing child and maternal deaths. Deficiencies in micronutrients, such as iodine, iron, vitamin A and zinc, can lead to impaired physical and cognitive development, poor pregnancy outcomes (for example, a low birth weight baby), a weakened immune system, anemia, night blindness and even death. It is estimated that micronutrient malnutrition affects more than 2 billion people worldwide.
For more than a decade, the Food and Nutritional Technical Assistance (FANTA) project, funded by USAID, has been a key contributor to the global effort to reduce micronutrient deficiencies. Our work has focused on the development of new methods to identify dietary gaps, through research on the impact of lipid-based nutrient supplements on the health status of vulnerable populations and dissemination of the most up-to-date, relevant information to a wide range of nutrition stakeholders.
Recently, FANTA contributed to the development of software called Optifood, which can be used to identify local food combinations that can fill (or come as close as possible to filling) micronutrient gaps based on local foods and diet. Optifood results contribute to the development of cost-effective, context-specific approaches. The idea is to start with existing dietary patterns and foods that are already available and consumed locally and then identify what combination of local and potentially new foods can be easily — and affordably — accessed to provide needed micronutrients. In some cases, fortified foods or micronutrient supplements might be needed to reach adequate nutrient intake, but the software is an important tool to identify locally available resources to help address micronutrient malnutrition.
Earlier this month, health experts from around the world met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the 2014 Micronutrient Forum Global Conference, where they shared the latest information on the design and implementation of programs aimed at reducing micronutrient malnutrition. Dr. Telahun Teka, FANTA’s project manager for Ethiopia, moderated a session on multisector engagement to reduce micronutrient deficiencies in vulnerable populations.
FANTA is continuing to investigate new and effective ways to prevent and reduce women’s and children’s micronutrient deficiencies through dietary supplementation. Through this research, FANTA is documenting the impact of nutrient-dense food supplements on micronutrient deficiencies that will help guide programs on effective approaches. It is our hope that our work on nutrition contributes to the global push to reduce morbidity and mortality and improve birth outcomes and child growth.
Join the conversation on nutrition and other topics using the hashtag #MomAndBaby.