News from Madagascar

By Bob Rees - Vice President, Co-Founder, Board of Directors

In Antanaravio (“Tana”), the capital of Madagascar, from 1:00 to 3:00 Saturday afternoon we conducted our first screening of about twenty infants and toddlers. Screening consists of recording the children’s ages, genders, height and weight, all of which is entered into a computer program that allows us to immediately identify those who are malnourished. Children are divided into four categories: normal, acute (wasted or thinner than normal), chronic (stunted or shorter than normal) and acute and chronic (thinner, shorter and underweight). 70% of the children we screened yesterday fit into one of these three categories. 


We focus on the first 1,000 days because that is where the ravages of malnutrition are the most severe. Children who are significantly malnourished during this critical period (roughly the first three years of life) suffer irreparable damage to their brains, which means that they will be cognitively impaired for the remainder of their lives.

To put this in terms that make the consequences of malnutrition dramatically clear, if malnourished children do not get the nutrients and calories necessary for normal growth, they will lose a full standard deviation of intelligence and have diminished physical abilities. Both effects last a lifetime. What is a standard deviation?  If you line up 100 children representing a range of intelligence from most to least based on their expected intellectual and physical capacity at birth, those who do not receive enough calories and nutrition in the first 1000 days will move backwards 33 places, an enormous drop in mental capacity! 


The amazing thing about our work (the Bountiful Children’s Foundation) is that for less than $100 a year we can provide the nutritional supplements such children need to survive this critical period. For less than $300 (the cost of supplements for the 1,000 days) we can give a child the gift of his or her full cognitive and physical capacity! It is hard to imagine $300 being used for a better cause. How many of us waste that much money in a month—or buy things we could do without? Donating $100 a year over the next three years could save a child’s life and give her a chance of a better life. (


Our program also addresses the needs of pregnant women and lactating mothers. At the screening on Sunday we were able to evaluate the condition of babies born to women who had been getting supplements during pregnancy. They (and we) rejoiced to find the babies were in good health. Mothers whose babies were found to be malnourished during the last screening (which took place six months ago) were also happy to find them now normal due to our program.

The next Saturday afternoon we conducted our second screening at the Toamasina meeting house. All together we screened 57 children as well as 10 pregnant women and 6 nursing mothers. Our experience shows that by making sure pregnant women receive proper nutrition their babies are much more likely to be born healthy, and lactating mothers will provide necessary nutrition to their nursing infants. Of the children we screened, 54 percent manifested varying degrees of malnutrition. We provide them with a nutrition supplement called Plumpy’nut, a "peanut based supplement specifically formulated for the nutritional rehabilitation of children from six months of age, and adults suffering from severe acute malnutrition.”


Our evaluation included re-screening children and pregnant women who had entered the program six months ago. We were pleased to find that the children who were identified as malnourished when they entered the program are now out of danger, and the women in the program who were pregnant gave birth to healthy children. In six months, Manda and Monika, our colleagues here, will re-screen the children who were shown to be malnourished in this screening. Again, it is amazing that for less than $100 a year a child can get the necessary nutrients to become mentally and physically healthy.