Saving kid’s lives and developing Haiti, it’s all about peanut butter! 

Hello everyone, my name is Julian Antony and I have recently joined Meds and Food for Kids Haiti as a Financial Analysis Officer, through the ICATS 2013 fellowship. I’ve spent the last 5 years in the financial services industry in Canada, analyzing business problems in the credit card industry and developing strategies to improve profitability.  A strong desire to apply my business and finance skills to make an impact on society led me to the ICATS program, and ultimately brought me to the fascinating country of Haiti!

So what exactly am I doing in Haiti, and what is all the talk about peanuts? It’s finally time to shed some light on the exciting work that is happening at Meds and Food for Kids Haiti (MFK)!

Given the extreme poverty and unemployment in Haiti, a natural consequence is the prevalence of malnutrition. The consequences are severe and permanent, as malnourished children are never as intelligent, never as tall, and never as healthy – this limits their future opportunities and thus perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty.

  • 1 in 5 children in Haiti are underweight – 220,000 children
  • 1 in 10 children in Haiti are wasting– 110,000 children
  • 1 in 3 children are stunted
  • 1 in 14 children die before age five years- the highest under five mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere

The good news is that malnutrition can be treated, provided the intervention is early enough in the child’s life. Malnutrition in Haiti in the late 90’s and the early 2000’s would be treated with fortified milk powder mixed with clean water, thus requiring in clinic treatments. This solution was only 25% effective very expensive, often costing nearly $500/child. The limited number of clinics and healthcare budget and distance from village communities meant that several children were needlessly dying without access to treatment.

In 2003, Dr Pat Wolff, a pediatrician from St Louis, USA, after 15 years of voluntary medical work in Haiti, was tired of seeing children die from malnutrition and decided to found MFK, an organization to combat this challenge. Her colleague had successfully tested a revolutionary new treatment in Malawi with fortified peanut butter, and saw remarkable recovery rates of 80% at a cost of ~$70 / child. MFK brought this treatment to Haiti, and Medika Mamba ‘Peanut Butter Medicine’ in Creole) was born!

MFK began making this product in Haiti and convinced the Haitian Ministry of Health that it was the way forward for treating malnutrition, and was endorsed by the WHO as the gold standard in 2007. All it takes is mixing some ground roasted peanuts, powdered milk, cooking oil, sugar, vitamins and minerals and in 2 months, you start to see results!

before medika mamba

after medika mamba

tasting medika mamba

Since bringing Medika Mamba to treat malnutrition in Haiti, MFK has developed an innovative organizational model to address the root causes of malnutrition – unemployment and poverty.

MFK lives up to its vision of ‘Saving Kid’s Lives and Developing Haiti’ through 3 areas:

  1. Supporting Farmers – MFK sources peanuts from local farmers where possible to boost their incomes, despite being more expensive than imported varieties. MFK works closely with peanut farmers to increase their yields and improve quality of their peanuts through training and donated machinery/seeds, working with nearly 1000 farmers each year.
  2. Producing Locally – by choosing to build a 15,000+ square foot factory to produce Medika Mamba in Haiti, MFK creates employment for nearly 50 factory workers, provides training and injects money and resources into the local economy. By creating jobs for Haitians, they can eventually lift themselves out of the poverty that leads to malnutrition.
  3. Treating Malnutrition – Medika Mamba is bought by larger NGO’s like UNICEF and WFP who distribute it at local hospitals and clinics, and product sales cover organizational costs and are reinvested towards supporting farmers and donating Medika Mamba to smaller clinics in need. From 8000 children in 2011, MFK impacted 30,000+ children with Medika Mamba last year and hopes to reach 80,000 in the next few years.

It has been an exciting few weeks seeing first-hand the work being done at MFK, ranging from the impressive production line that churns out tons of life saving Medika Mamba, to the farmers in Northern Haiti that had never used fungicides or tractors before. However, the most inspiring experience was one of our visits to a community clinic in one of the city’s slums.  We came across a severely malnourished child of 7 months old weighing only 8 pounds, with no diagnosis and prior treatment. I was extremely moved seeing this in the flesh, a mother in poverty unable to feed her baby for so long. Dr Pat Wolff made a quick examination and immediately offered funds to buy antibiotics and Medika Mamba, an intervention that has without doubt, changed the child’s life forever.

So where do I fit into this picture? MFK has grown exponentially over the last year with the creation of the new factory, so I will be helping them to manage their finances, conduct financial planning to develop their long term strategy and ultimately help MFK to sustainably scale their social impact. The journey towards 80,000 kids a year has only begun, and I hope to help them move further along this year!

At the production line


Haitian farmers at peanut harvest

peanut farmers

Mother with severely malnourished child at the community clinic

mother and baby

Dr Pat Wolff examines the child

pat treatment

This 7 month old baby weighed only 8 pounds (normal weight for this age is closer to 15 pounds

weighing baby


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