Dr. Buddhima Lokuge from Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiéres) spoke Tuesday about a simple solution to the complex issue of malnutrition in developing countries.
The seminar, held in 1001 Giedt at 7 p.m., was sponsored by the International and Community Nutrition program of MSF, which has been working closely with the UCD’s nutrition department on a diet supplement that would improve conditions of malnutrition.
“UC Davis is at the center of nutrition research,” Dr. Lokuge said during his lecture. “This is an area of research that’s going to have a practical and big impact on developing countries.“
Dr. Kay Dewey of the nutrition department and other researchers helped develop lipid nutrient supplements (LNS), a milk-based formula for infants and young children.
After developing the product, they conducted a randomized controlled trial of 400 infants in four different groups in Ghana. They found that children who received the supplement grew more and had better motor development than those who did not.
“When you go to these areas affected by malnutrition, a 2-year-old child will be much shorter because he or she hasn’t received the nutrients that 2-year-olds should,” Lokuge said. “The LNS delivers essential nutrients to prevent children’s [growth] from being severely stunted.”
One hundred and seventy eight million children under age five are affected by malnutrition worldwide, according to MSF’s statistics and Lokuge’s presentation. On a recent trip to Niger, MSF administered the supplement to 4,000 children – 90 percent of which recovered.
A major portion of the presentation was devoted to discussing the lack of advocacy and awareness paid toward malnutrition. Lokuge noted that countries receive $6 billion in HIV aid, whereas malnutrition funds amount to only $300 million. The lack of funding has been the most limiting barrier to the issue, Lokuge said.
Dewey also pointed out that many people give more money and care to their pets than they invest in the cause of nutrition in third world countries.
“We pay more attention to domesticated animals than to the food quality of these children,” she said.
During the question-and-answer portion of the seminar, one attendant asked whether or not MSF would also lend its voice to the local food market, since the lipid nutrition supplements would put more emphasis on a global food market.
“Politically in the real world you just can’t do it,” Lokuge said. “We want to have an impact on the immediate nutrition of children.“
Approximately 40 people attended the seminar, mostly nutrition students who heard about the event from the department listserv.
“I learned a lot [in this seminar] and it’s clear that a blind eye is being turned to this matter,” said Beki Davidson, a second year nutritional biochemistry major. “[The solution to malnutrition] is definitely something I want to be a part of.“
In their efforts to raise awareness for malnutrition, MSF will be continuing their national “Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City” tour in San Francisco, where guests can experience what it’s like to live without the food or the supplies of a modern country.
“We hope this will lead to a change,” Lokuge said. “Because this is not an issue of food security, but lack of knowledge.“
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com