Saving young lives with peanut butter

September 1, 2005

What do you feed to a starving child? When the setting is a clinic operated by Doctors Without Borders in Niger-where devastating famine has turned the chronic malnutrition that characterizes this impoverished country into a killer-the answer is: Plumpy'nut. This thick peanut butter spread, enriched with vitamins and minerals, is being dispensed to mothers in small, foil-wrapped packets, each containing 500 calories of nourishment that require no cooking and are eagerly devoured by babies.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, Plumpy'nut is a true miracle cure that can bring starving infants back from the brink of death in as little as two weeks-no health-care workers, no IV feeding, no hospitalization required. The spread was developed by a French food scientist, Andre Briend, and is produced by Nutriset, a French company that specializes in food supplements for relief programs.

A typical course of treatment with Plumpy'nut is two packets a day for four weeks, given with Unimix, a vitamin-enriched flour with which African families make porridge. Total cost to nourish one child: $20. Funding constraints limit this feeding program to the sickest children. Their compatriots who are merely malnourished-one child in five, according to the United Nations-will have to wait until developed nations take note of their plight and come up with adequate funds.