Malnutrition work in Haiti gets funding boost

More than 4,000 malnourished children in Haiti will get a chance to be nursed back to health with a nutrient-rich peanut-butter mixture, thanks to a grant received by Meds & Food for Kids (MFK).

Patricia Wolff, M.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics, founded MFK in 2004 after she saw that medications and small amounts of Haitian staples — rice, beans and corn — weren’t enough to bring starving Haitian children back to health.

In late May, MFK received a $198,020 grant from the World Bank Development Marketplace as one of 22 projects out of 2,900 applications chosen to share $4 million in funding. The grant program was co-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With the grant, the organization will expand its work with the Justinien Hospital and Camp Louise, a regional Haitian pub-lic hospital and clinic in Cap-Haïtien, the second-largest city in Haiti. MFK will provide medical services, education and the peanut-butter mixture, known as Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), to children between 6 months and 5 years old with medically diagnosed malnutrition to increase their body weight by as much as 60 percent.

The locally produced RUTF, known to Haitians as “Medika Mamba,” is a mixture of peanuts, sugar, oil, vitamins, minerals and powdered milk that can be fed to children at home. After evaluation and treatment with RUTF, children start to show signs of improvement in 1-2 weeks, becoming more active and growing new hair.

MFK has treated more than 1,600 children in three and a half years and produces 4,400 pounds of Medika Mamba a month.

One course of the six-week treatment, which can be enough to renourish a child, costs less than $100.

Wolff said she hopes the success of the project will persuade the government to accept the RUTF model and incorporate it into the national public health system.

“The country has no malnutrition policy, so we are hoping that we’ll be successful and show that this is a great malnutrition project for outpatient therapy,” Wolff said. “We are saving money, inpatient beds, personnel and opportunity costs for the families, but most importantly, we are saving children. The treatment is therefore being much more effective than the current rice, beans and corn ration handouts.”

The project also is expected to generate $30,000 in sales for Haitian peanut growers.

To carry out the project as planned, MFK will need to raise another $100,000.