Fighting Malnutrition and Spurring Economic Development in Haiti

November 15, 2012

Even before the earthquake, pediatric malnutrition was a significant health problem in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. As the single largest contributor to disease, malnourished children are five to eight times more likely to die from diseases like diarrhea, pneumonia, and measles as compared to a well-nourished child, according to the U.N. Standing Committee on Nutrition.

Kathy Pickus on the Business Case for Global Development at the 2012 Global Conference

Solving complex, deep-rooted problems like malnutrition will require a unique approach. Abbott and the Abbott Fund have formed a unique partnership in Haiti with Partners In Health (PIH). Through the combination of the collective expertise and resources of Abbott, the Abbott Fund and PIH, Haitians are empowered to create local, sustainable solutions to treating severe malnutrition, and also address its underlying cause—poverty. At the same time, the partners are working to change lives and establish new models in Haiti that can be replicated to help others implement sustainable projects around the world.

The focus of the project is to enhance and expand PIH’s production of Nourimanba, a ready-to-use therapeutic food specifically formulated to treat severe childhood malnutrition. It also focuses on producing non-medical products, such as peanut butter, that will be sold commercially to support PIH’s continued production and free distribution of Nourimanba.

The $6.5 million initiative draws on the expertise of more than 50 Abbott staff, including its leading nutrition scientists and engineers. Working together with PIH’s medical experts and local Haitian staff, the partnership is building a new nutrition production facility near PIH’s hospital in Haiti’s central plateau region. Key parts of the initiative include:

  • Building an 18,000-square-foot nutritional food production facility in Corporant, Haiti, to expand Nourimanba production.
  • Abbott and PIH staff working shoulder-to-shoulder to combine PIH’s successful record of health care delivery, agricultural development, and Nourimanba formula, with Abbott’s expertise in nutrition science, engineering, quality and manufacturing.
  • Creating economic and agricultural development: local farmers provide the peanuts used to make Nourimanba, local workers are building the facility, and Abbott and PIH experts are training local staff to handle production, product testing, and facility management.
  • Producing commercial products such as peanut butter, which will help sustain the production and free distribution of Nourimanba.

The facility broke ground in early 2012, and production is expected to begin by the end of the year. PIH currently treats approximately 10,000 children per year with Nourimanba; the new facility will allow them to potentially treat up to 50,000 children per year.

The project is committed to engaging and employing local Haitians in as many ways as possible. Currently, more than 200 farmers are engaged in the peanut supply chain, and approximately 40 local employees handle the production process—from shelling the peanuts to filling containers with the finished Nourimanba. In addition, local workers are constructing the facility. Once the facility is operational, approximately 20 additional Haitian staff will be needed to handle additional aspects of staff management, production, maintenance, and lab analysis. Local employees bring a great deal of local value and knowledge to the process including their familiarity of regional conditions, infrastructure, climate, and community norms. This is critical information that historically has created challenges in scaling projects in Haiti.

Along with their expertise, Abbott scientists and engineers are sharing what they learn from the project to educate and strengthen the company’s understanding of health and nutrition in developing countries. That enables Abbott to better meet the health care needs of people around the world in the future. Key success factors and lessons learned are internalized by Abbott teams to strengthen their understanding of initiating and scaling business and social investment programs to meet health needs in developing nations. This includes learning about lowest-cost production in resource-limited environments, which can inform the company’s development and manufacturing efforts as well.

[Editor's note: This article is part of The Role of Business in Emerging Markets.]