The Cambodian government and UNICEF yesterday released results of a clinical trial on new locally produced food supplements to tackle the country’s persistently dismal malnutrition figures, with at least one of the two products proving effective.
The food supplements, dubbed Num Trey, are fish-based, and come in two types. One is aimed at treating acute malnutrition while the other one is designed to prevent malnutrition, according to researchers.
Frank Wieringa, senior researcher at the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement, said research on the supplement to treat acute malnutrition showed that nutrition improved among participating children, with a mean weight gain per day of 0.82 grams, compared with 1.14 grams with an international product a negligible difference, he said. “The product we have is just as good.”
However, results for the product designed to help prevent malnutrition only prevented wasting – being severely underweight for one’s age – but not stunting – being significantly under-height – said Sok Daream, a PhD fellow at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
“We failed on this one,” Arnaud Laillou, nutrition specialist at UNICEF, later acknowledged. “We know it doesn’t work on stunting.” But research on the product is still ongoing.
More than 60 percent of children aged 12 to 23 months, and up to 80 percent of children aged 6 to 8 months, don’t receive the minimum acceptable daily diet, said Debora Comini, UNICEF representative for Cambodia.
“And the poorest children are four times less likely to receive a minimum acceptable diet than children from the wealthiest families,” she said.
UNICEF estimates there are more than 90,000 children in Cambodia under the age of 5 who require treatment for acute malnutrition.