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Feature Global Health

Commercial solutions to malnutrition

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 04 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4482

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  1. Ben Bland, freelance health and development journalist
  1. 1Southeast Asia
  1. theasiafile{at}

    Big business in Bangladesh is at the centre of a drive to reduce rates of malnutrition, but is this an appropriate public health measure, and will it make any more than a dent in the problem? Ben Bland reports

    Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world, but with the government and international organisations unable to come up with a unified strategy, progress has been limited. Now the government and non-governmental organisations are looking to work with business in an attempt to find cost effective and scaleable solutions to an enduring problem that is putting great pressure on the country’s overstretched health system and underperforming economy.

    With initial funding from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a Geneva based foundation that fosters public-private partnerships to treat malnutrition, and support from several key players in the domestic development sector, some of Bangladesh’s biggest businesses are launching new fortified food products designed to reduce rates of micronutrient malnutrition across the country. Those involved believe that food fortification and micronutrient supplementation can be a cost effective way to help large numbers of people who are not currently consuming the vitamins and minerals they need in sufficient quantities, although education, alleviating poverty, and enhanced food security are also important.

    The hope is that the commercial products can reach a mass market of moderately poor people who have some cash in their pockets but little education about healthy and balanced diets. The products include Sprinkles, a micronutrient powder for children that is added to food. The Bangladesh Vegetable Oil Refiners’ Association has also agreed to fortify the country’s supply of cooking oil with vitamin A. And Danone, the French food giant, has gone into business with Grameen, the Bangladeshi microfinance bank set up by Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad …

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