Over the summer I traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh with my colleagues at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. While there I walked past several markets. There were fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, grains and all of the fixings for me to cook a feast. However, what I saw in the capitol and what I could afford to purchase is not the norm for the majority of families in Bangladesh. Those nutrient-rich foods are costly.
Rice is the cheapest option and is thus the staple dish in Bangladesh. On average a person consumes 450g (or 4 servings) of rice per day. I love rice, but unfortunately eating so much of one food- the one food you can afford enough of to fill your belly- does not allow you to get the vitamins and minerals needed to lead a healthy life. That’s why more than 87% of the infants and young children between 6-12 months of age are suffering from iron deficiency anemia. Malnutrition rates in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world.
But how do you get vitamins and minerals to the families who need them most and at a price they can afford?
That’s the question that brought me to Bangladesh. I was part of a team, led by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, which was responsible for designing a plan to reach 1 million infants and young children each year with essential nutrients. We met with government officials, public and private organizations and community leaders to discuss opportunities. And what it came down to was the supply and demand of home nutrition packets: getting a supply of essential nutrients into families’ homes and educating families on the importance of good nutrition and the use of home nutrition packets in order to give children the essential nutrients needed when a diverse diet is not geographically or financially feasible.
What does supply and demand look like?
Well first of all, the supply of home nutrition packets are produced locally by a Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company, Renata. Renata produces the finest quality of locally-made vitamin and mineral powders and sells them at a subsidized rate so that it can be purchased at a market for an affordable price, only 3 taka or 3 cents!
Then, for families in rural villages, it means going door-to-door with home nutrition packets. BRAC, the largest NGO in the world, has trained a network of 85,000 village women health volunteers known regionally as Shasthya Shebikas. By going door-to-door, these respected volunteers are improving access to health products and giving advice to millions of poor families across Bangladesh. Futhermore, the Shasthya Shebika women also receive a small profit on the items they sell, which empowers them to earn an income. It’s a win-win-win situation for mothers and babies and inspiring entrepreneurs!
As food-preparers, women are used to adding items like spices, oils, and other additives to meals, so sprinkling vitamin and mineral powder on an infant’s food is not vastly different; however it does require mass awareness. To help reach target audiences with public health messages and to create a socially acceptable culture around home nutrition packets, we will also expand the conversations around nutrition beyond the household. There’s a real need to talk about the importance of good nutrition on TVs, in newspapers, on radios, in the schools, on billboards and on buses. In order to make changes in the homes we have to make changes in the communities.
These approaches to get home nutrition packets into the mouths of babies has been tested and proven successful in various regions in Bangladesh. But now it is time to take all of those lessons learned and scale-up the distribution of home nutrition packets so every baby in the country can get the vitamins and minerals needed to give them the right start to a healthy, enriched life.
Future Fortified is asking individuals to give the gift of good nutrition to 25,000 children in Bangladesh by December 31, 2012. Just $10 will help five children in Bangladesh access home nutrition packets for the next six months.