Child malnutrition rates today are devastating yet there is hope in the form of a recently created medical "super food" that provides the specific, high-quality nutrition children need to recover, survive, and even thrive. Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) is a high-calorie, fortified peanut butter-like pastes. Peanuts contain mono-unsaturated fats, which are easy to digest, and are rich in zinc and protein: both good for the immune system.
RUTF is referred to as Chiponde in Malawi and Dutasi in Sierra Leone.
What is in "RUTF"?
Dr. Manary and his colleagues experimented with different mixtures of ground, roasted peanuts, vegetable oil, powdered milk, vitamins, minerals and sugar. Also called "RUTF", these RUTF can be stored without refrigeration for months without spoiling and require no cooking. Critical to success is that children like the taste of RUTF! From 2000 to 2004, the doctors went on to conduct multiple successful clinical trials with RUTF.
- WHO website on Nutrition
- Anderson Cooper and 60 Minutes Reports on RUTF in Niger
- William J. Clinton / Clinton HIV Aids Initiative supports Project Peanut Butter
- About Project Peanut Butter
Today, the majority of RUTF ingredients come from local farmers. However, the most expensive component used to produce RUTF is the milk powder, because is not readily sourced in local communities.
Until recently, malnutrition treatment has been restricted to facility-based approaches, greatly limiting its coverage and impact. Unfortunately, in most regions of Africa, when a mother has a sick child, she has two choices: do nothing or take the child to a hospital. Yet hospitals and clinics are often tens of miles away from rural communities, and the outcomes are poor: when a child has SAM, less than 40% recover from hospital treatment. The majorities relapse or die.
In addition hospital treatment can last from 4 to 8 weeks, causing the mother to be away from her other children and family, and compounding other health issues the family may be facing.
However, researchers like Dr. Manary discovered that when SAM-effected children are treated with the use of RUTF in their homes, they achieve remarkable recoveries.
The home therapy model:
- Does not compromise a mother's ability to care for her home or family by forcing her to seek care miles away from her community.
- Allows for multiple small feedings per day with adequate additional hydration.
- Means mothers no longer have to navigate through multiple agencies to determine the proper nutrition program for their child.
By the late 90's, many researchers knew that RUTF were key to meaningful SAM recovery rates, but Dr. Mark Manary was the first to conduct clinical trials of RUTF, administered in the home. In the 2000-2001 hungry season in Malawi, Dr. Manary's small team treated 400 children with RUTF combined with the new home therapy method. In this study, a remarkable 80% of the treated children reached their "100% weight for height goal" after 12 weeks! Similar results were achieved in large scale trials through 2004 and by 2005, Project Peanut Butter (PPB) was officially created and operating in 12 sites in Malawi. The combination of RUTF administered in the home produced 95% recovery rates in many situations.
In 2007, Dr. Manary's revolutionary approach to treating SAM - RUTF distributed via community-based treatment protocols - was commended as the most effective method to treat severely malnourished children by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF.
"… a food that may just be the most important advance ever to cure and prevent malnutrition."
- Anserson Cooper, Oct. 2007
Today, there are:
- Two functioning PPB factories, in Malawi and Sierra Leone
- Multiple PPB sites in both countries providing RUTF, staff, training and outreach
PPB does this by manufacturing between 1,000 and 1,250 tons of RUTF on an annual basis, locally in Africa in its own facilities. The charity does its best to source the majority of RUTF ingredients from local farmers (In Malawi, for example, all ingredients except milk powder and vitamins are sourced locally.)