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Plumpy’nut and Profits

Every food pantry welcomes donations of peanut butter because it is so nutritious, and every mother has it in her kitchen because no matter what else the kids refuse to eat, they will almost always accept a pb&j sandwich.

Peanuts were the answer to Andre Briend, a French pediatrician, who was trying to find a way to treat malnutrition. He knew about F100, a fortified dry milk that could counter the biochemical effects of nutrition in children. But it had to be mixed with water – which was often  contaminated in countries where malnutrition was rife. And it tasted bad.

Andrew Rice in the Sunday, Sept. 5 issue of the NYTimes Magazine describes Briend’s Aha Moment, coming up with the “idea to mix F100 with peanuts (a legume that is grown widely throughout the developing world), milk, sugar and oil. The concoction was full of protein and fat, which insulated its nutrients from oxygen and humidity and masked their unappetizing flavor.”

The other advantage to this treatment for malnutrition is that it doesn’t need to be administered in hospitals. Children can eat it at home, and gain weight and vigor more effectively than hospital treatments.

Isn’t this great news?  Yes. Except.  Except that a private French company Nutriset, holds the patent – and they have a bottom line that is their concern as much as children’s health.  Unicef buys 90% of its supplies from the French factory.

Paul Farmer of Partners in Health in Haiti, makes his own version using local peanuts calling it Nourimanba.  Navyn Salem of Rhode Island, inspired by Farmer has, built a joint venture factory with Nutriset called Edesia, and raises money to buy Plumpy’ nut. Salem said “. . . malnutrition was killing more than all of them (AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria) combined.” Her focus has expanded to not only cure malnutrition, but to prevent it with therapeutic foods.

Read the article and tell me if you have an idea of how to handle a patent of this type that puts a high price on children’s lives. Costs have to be met, and people even need to make a profit – but how great a profit?  What do you think?

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