New interactive tool brings malnutrition data to life

Empowering parents to screen their children for signs of malnutrition is crucial, but what do we do with all that data? Photo by: Anouk Delafortrie / EC / ECHO / CC BY-NC-ND

This Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, in partnership with Amway, has launched an interactive mapping tool to help track undernutrition and obesity in an effort to better inform policy and programs to tackle a set of issues that affects about half of the people on the planet.

The Malnutrition Mapping Project draws data from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and Lancet, and presents more than 40 indicators in a layered, searchable platform.

“The idea is to bring together the data that exists in a visual format that allows us not only to interrogate this great challenge of malnutrition in our own geographies of interest but also to build on, through partnership, that base —  layering new ways of conceiving of malnutrition, layering new data sets that include not only the prevalences of these really alarming challenges but also the policies for example, or interventions we are designing to solve them,” said Dominic Schofield, director and senior technical advisor at GAIN. “To begin mapping that, I think, is really the beginning of a conversation: How do we work together using our core strengths to solve malnutrition?”

In building the mapping tool, GAIN identified some gaps where data is patching or missing and revealed that there is a need for more regionally specific data within countries and not just an aggregate picture, he said. The tool will continue to grow as new types of data or updated data become available. It will not, however be open source or publicly editable in an effort to ensure a high quality of data.

“Amway found it so important to support this project because malnutrition is preventable,” said Amway Chairman Steve Van Andel. “We can all help to lessen its impact.”

Amway partnered with GAIN to better understand the scope of the problem globally and in the countries where the company, which has long been in the nutrition business through the development and sale of vitamins and other health products, operates.

“Because of GAIN’s work to educate us, and others, we’re much closer to being able to affect more people,” he said.

Supporting the mapping tool is just one step as Amway is working to determine how it can best contribute to the challenge of malnutrition, a journey that is still at the beginning, Van Andel said.

While there may be some brand benefits, he said, Amway’s engagement comes from a more philanthropic place and a sense of responsibility to make a difference. This has led the company to invest in developing Nutrilite Little Bits, a 1 gram micronutrient sachet that contains 15 essential vitamins and minerals for children under 5 and is designed to be mixed with food once a day. Amway provides the product for free in six countries with the goal of reaching 15 by 2017.

This Little Bits product is new for the development community and could prove to be an example in the effort to develop a universal micronutrient solution which has been quite challenging given the varied regulations of different countries, Schofield said.

But the potential of partners, like Amway, goes beyond a single product or donation, he said.

It will require a movement to make a substantial reduction in undernutrition and obesity rates, and one thing Amway brings, in addition to expertise, is about 1.4 million entrepreneurs, who themselves can represent a social movement and provide a network that the public or NGO sectors would find difficult to match, Schofield said.

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    Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.

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