Posted May 25, 2011

When women in Haiti stop nursing their babies, it doesn’t take long for malnutrition to set in.

Breast-feeding typically ceases when infants are 6 months old and they are transitioned to a diet high in corn, rice and wheat grains. The children don’t get enough iron, zinc and other nutrients and can become malnourished quickly and susceptible to illness and disease, Ian Rawson, managing director of Hopital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti, said on Wednesday.

Rawson — a Pittsburgh native in the United States to deliver the commencement address on Friday at Goucher College in Baltimore — is working to change that with a team of researchers at H.J. Heinz Co. Heinz has developed a nutritional supplement called NurtureMate, which it will begin distributing in the poverty-stricken nation this summer.

“With the malnutrition comes the cholera, and the tuberculosis, inhibited growth and cognitive development and so many other things,” said Rawson, who has worked since 2009 at the hospital founded by the Mellon family 55 years ago. “They are struggling, and we are so excited about the opportunity to help them and lift them out of that.”

The NurtureMate, a sachet similar in size to a sugar packet, is sprinkled on top of food, Rawson said. It is odorless and colorless.

Sixty packets cost just $1.50 to manufacture, said Tammy Aupperle, director of the H.J. Heinz Company Foundation. The first distribution will reach 14,000 children, she said, and the effort aims to target children ages 6 months to 2 years.

“This is such a critical stage in a child’s life, and their mental and physical development and growth are critical in that time period,” Aupperle said.

The Heinz Micronutrient Fund was started in 2007, and the supplements have been distributed in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and other developing countries, Aupperle said.

Heinz and Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, of Toronto, developed the supplement, which can be customized to meet the needs of different cultures in different countries, Aupperle said. Children in Mongolia are swaddled in heavy blankets because of the cold weather, she said, and most become Vitamin D-deficient because they lack exposure to the sun.

In Haiti, the biggest need is iron, Rawson said.

Rawson said that when he is in Haiti, he looks past the devastation and sees hope, progress and a bright future.

Though the people still are suffering from the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck in January 2010 and the cholera outbreak that followed, Haitians overall are vibrant, hopeful and happy, he said.

“There is so much love and support for Haiti, and the beauty of Haiti is its energy and positive life force,” said Rawson. “They’ve grieved their losses and put it in the past.”

Some construction has begun, though many people still live in tent cities, Rawson said, adding that it will take “years and years” before the capital of Port-au-Prince is rebuilt. The city was one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake.

The Brothers’ Brother Foundation in Pittsburgh has raised more than $966,000 in cash for Haiti since the earthquake and has collected $43 million worth of material, medicine and food, said Luke Hingson, director of the North Side-based charity.

Pittsburgh-area doctors routinely travel to Haiti to provide medical services, Rawson said.

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Copyright © 2011, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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