LICENSING PATENTS FOR THE DEVELOPING WORLD CAN HELP BRING INNOVATIONS IN NUTRITION, MEDICINE, AND COUNTLESS OTHER FIELDS TO THE PEOPLE WHO NEED THEM THE MOST
In the Wollo highlands of northern Ethiopia, hunger and food insecurity are permanent features, as certain and regular as the droughts that rake the hills with unremitting frequency.
Large-scale humanitarian relief efforts, massive feeding centers, and heroic medical interventions have been deployed for decades to alleviate severe malnutrition and hunger in Wollo and other parts of Ethiopia, and have saved thousands. But many more thousands—especially children—have perished.
In 1996, a company called Nutriset developed a product called “Plumpy’nut”: a sachet containing an oil-based mixture of peanut butter, dried milk, sugar, and micronutrients that requires no refrigeration, does not need to be mixed with water, and has the same nutritional profile as F100. Plumpy’nut was a major breakthrough for treating severely malnourished children, but its creator, Andre Briénd, realized: “Developing Plumpy’nut was not enough on its own. It was like inventing a computer without the software.”
That vital “software” came in the form of a unique partnership between the international humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide and Dr. Steve Collins, director of the research agency Valid International. With Nutriset making Plumpy’nut available, Collins and Concern Worldwide were able to develop and implement a new approach to feeding malnourished children called “Community-based Therapeutic Care,” also known as “CTC.”
Collins and Concern piloted CTC in Ethiopia in 2000. The evidence gathered from the pilot—and from subsequent CTC programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Niger, and Sudan—was persuasive. Data showed that the CTC programs reached over 70 percent of those in need: The old system of therapeutic feeding centers, the gold-standard in the 1990s, had never been able to reach more than 10 percent.
In 2007, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the United Nations System Standing Committee on Nutrition endorsed this CTC approach as international best practice.
Currently, Nutriset allows NGOs, as well as a network of several manufacturers under Nutriset franchise, to produce ready-to-use therapeutic foods with properties similar to Plumpy’nut. With the aim of increasing local production, Nutriset grants patent licenses to NGOs with proven track records and offices in developing countries.
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- Primary school, Plumpy Nut and peri-peri sauce in Malawi (one.org)
- Somalia faces malnutrition crisis (guardian.co.uk)
- Malnutrition Rates are High in Pakistan’s Sindh Province (scienceblogs.com)