This post originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog.
Part I - Biofortification: A New Arrow in the Quiver
Fortifying diets with minerals and vitamins is an important front in the fight against malnutrition, particularly in the critical 1,000 day period during a woman’s pregnancy through the second birthday of her child.
Micronutrient deficiency afflicts some two billion people globally; it is sometimes called “hidden hunger,” for the absence of vitamins or minerals may be imperceptible, and certainly less graphic than the bloated bellies, stick-figure limbs, and hollow eyes of full-blown famine victims. But to those taking a closer look, it is clearly undermining the health of the world; doctors, scientists, and academics estimate that one quarter of the world’s children are stunted physically or mentally (or both) because of this undernourishment. For instance, nearly 200 million children under the age of five suffer from vitamin A deficiency, which damages immune systems and turns common diseases fatal, and is the main cause of preventable blindness in children. Iron deficiency anemia leads to stunting in children and is a leading cause of maternal deaths.
Iron and vitamin supplements are important for pregnant moms around the world, and these nutrients are also vital for infants as they begin to eat solid foods at six months. Billions of dollars are spent annually in the developing world on supplementation and commercial fortification of food. But even with these efforts, the supply of the supplements is inconsistent, particularly in remote rural areas. Delivery is burdensome, budgets are always under stress. Even when the supplements are available, those in pill form must be taken with water, which is usually unclean, triggering other health problems. And follow-up care to assure adherence to a supplement regiment is sporadic at best.