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Better Nutrition, Better Future

Kaho Izumitani

Health officials in Ghana are turning to Japan for help to feed some of the youngest members of their population. They're hoping a product developed by a Japanese company can boost nutrition for babies.

Health officials from Ghana recently visited Japanese food company Ajinomoto to observe its operations and learn about its products. It was part of two weeks of training seminars sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA.

The officials learned about the company's efforts to improve the health of babies through a fortified food product called "Koko Plus." It is made of soy beans, vitamins, calcium and sugar, and has a sweet taste.

It was specifically developed to be added to a porridge called "koko," which is the first solid food for most babies in Ghana. Fermented corn is the main ingredient of the sour porridge, but that alone does not make for a balanced diet. Nearly 30% of children under the age of 5 in the country suffer from stunted growth cause by malnutrition.

Ajinomoto joined in a project aimed at tackling the issue. They worked with NGOs and researchers at the University of Ghana to create the supplement. The powder is produced by a Ghanaian company. One pack sells for less than 10 cents. That's a little expensive, but still an affordable price for the country's people.

Sales are handled by women who speak to mothers and explain the importance of investing in the children's health. It is also sold in mom-and-pop shops. Over 10,000 mothers have bought the product, but reaching a wider range of them has been difficult.

Government health officials hold events on child care for mothers. The developers want the opportunity to explain the product at such events. "We want to create sustainable business for better nutrition of children in Ghana," Yasuhiko Toride of Ajinomoto says. "This is possible only when we have a good collaboration. We think that this new collaboration in the next stage will be essential to achieve this goal."

Kate Beverly of the Ghana Health Service says "if the health workers see that the product is good, then mothers are more likely to utilize it. An endorsement from the health sector, in addition to education, can go a long way."

JICA official Akiko Hagiwara explains the potential of teaming up with health care workers. "In Ghana, each village has a health clinic that provides not only treatment, but also activities to promote health," she says. "I think there is great possibility in these activities, where essential services and information can be delivered to mothers and infants who need them the most."

The mission to raise healthier babies in Ghana still has much work ahead, but international good will and cooperation are bringing the goal closer.

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