Project Lead(s): Pratibha Dwarkanath
Anemia -- a low level of red blood cells causing a body’s reduced capacity to carry oxygen -- results from micronutrient deficiencies, most often iron.
India has one of the highest rates of anemia globally: over 79% of children aged 6 to 8 months and 58% of the 26 million pregnant women each year. Some 17 million of these women have access to iron pills yet 11 million do not take them for the recommend time (adherence rate: 35%). Why? The pill is big and tastes metallic.
Yet iron deficiency anemia dramatically affects the health of a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, increasing risks of death and sickness during childbirth, including hemorrhage and low-birth weight. Long-term, iron deficiency anemia delays psychomotor development and impairs cognitive development in infants, preschool and school-aged children around the world.
Moreover, researchers say, the effects of anemia are, “not likely to be corrected by subsequent iron therapy... anemic children will have impaired performance in tests of language skills, motor skills, and coordination, reportedly equivalent to a 5 to 10 point deficit in IQ.”
Part of the answer may be an iron-fortified biscuit for use by pregnant women, indistinguishable in taste from popular Indian biscuits.
Coupled with marketing, project leaders say their new biscuit is more likely to be used by previously non-adherent pregnant women, and increase iron stores in newborns, “which translates to more sustainable and protected early brain development.”
“After extensive consumer research, the nutrition team led by Dr A.V. Kurpad and the project collaborators, Violet Health Inc have developed several prototypes specifically designed with the tastes and preferences of pregnant women in India,” says project leader Dr. Pratibha Dwarkanath of St John’s Research Institute, unit of CBCI Society for Medical Education.
“We estimate our solution to be more cost-effective than the iron pill, while reaching more anemic women and their children.”
“After proof of concept, we anticipate a scaled trial in Karnataka within three years and reducing anemia in women and infants.”
Project collaborators include Violet Health, Inc., NY, and the Indian Institute of Management, India Bangalore.