New Fish-Based Therapeutic Food Launched to Treat Malnutrition in Cambodian Children

AKP Phnom Penh, December 18, 2018 —

A new fish-based wafer snack so called “Nutrix” was launched here yesterday to address severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in children in Cambodia.

The move has been developed by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), University of Copenhagen (UC), and Danish Care Foods (DCF), in collaboration with the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), said a joint statement.

The launch of the local production of this innovative therapeutic food marked an important step towards reaching the government’s goal to treat at least 25,000 children with severe acute malnutrition per year, said Cambodia’s Minister of Health H.E. Dr. Mam Bunheng while presiding over the ceremony.

The start of the production, he added, will help ensure that a local commodity to treat severe acute malnutrition is available. Over the last five years, many partners have supported us to develop this product and we are hopeful that this new partnership will help us reach more children with severe acute malnutrition treatment.

Approximately 2.6 per cent of children in Cambodia are diagnosed with SAM. To treat them, home-based ready-to-use therapeutic foods are prescribed as a treatment and without these, many children may need to be hospitalized. However, research shows that there is low up-take from children requiring treatment of the existing products currently provided within the health facilities in Cambodia.

For her part, Ms. Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director, East Asia and Pacific, said that, in East Asia and Pacific, over 5 million children under the age of 5 are affected by SAM annually, which is a major cause of death in children under 5. Ending SAM, she continued, is challenging and requires social and political will, suggesting the RGC should be congratulated for prioritizing this issue and for strengthening treatment in all settings since Cambodia joins one of two countries in the region to produce its own ready-to-use therapeutic food.

As an affordable snack-like therapeutic food, the Cambodian government can provide Nutrix to treat SAM in children under the age of five in remote and poor communities through local health facilities. It is estimated that in Cambodia, between 60,000 to 90,000 children need specialized medical treatment annually, including therapeutic food.

With support from UNICEF, the number of children treated in 36 hospitals and over 100 health centers nationally increased from 1,604 in 2011 to 5,576 in 2017. More children in Cambodia can be treated for SMA with Nutrix.

Well-known ready-to-use therapeutic foods made with peanut and dairy are imported into Cambodia. However, ingredients in Nutrix are locally sourced which makes it 20 per cent cheaper to produce.

According to Dr. Frank Wieringa from IRD, who has been working closely with UNICEF, UC and DCF in the development of Nutrix over the last five years, by using a product adapted to local taste and local preferences, we can make a real impact on malnutrition in Cambodia. This is important because besides the 2.6 per cent of children with SAM, another 8 per cent of children suffer moderate acute malnutrition in Cambodia, which is a staggering number.

Mr. Lyndon Paul, General Manager of DCF, said it is inspiring to see multiple partners working together to develop this local ready-to-use therapeutic food. “DCF is a social enterprise with limited funding and we would have never thought that the small initiative, which started five years ago, will soon be able to reach so many children. With the same amount of government budget, the Ministry of Health can treat 20 per cent more children thanks to the lower cost of procuring the therapeutic product,” he added.

By Khan Sophirom