Africa: Life Saving Peanut Product takes a Pasting

I was reminded of an advert I saw as a kid, you know, the one for Peanut Butter.  The advert showed a bunch of kids opening a jar secretly.  When the jar lid came off, a godly golden shine glared from within.  The kids looked on in wonderment.  A relatively recent invention of a Peanut based paste, which could save the lives of millions of African children, means the sun really has got its hat on.

The paste, is packed with nutritional content, is easy to transport, easy to dispense and doesn’t need anything else to support it (i.e. water, refrigeration or electricity).  Mothers can also take a supply home, cutting down the need for expensive Hospital stays.

The product, called Plumpy‘Nut, is unassuming in its silver, red and white packaging.  On the outside, it looks like a nutritional snack bar you could buy from any health food shop in Britain today.  But this little packet, filled with an edible paste, is revolutionary in providing a ready to eat supplement, saving many children, on the brink of starvation.

Invented by French Doctor, André Briend, the company Nutriset (http://www.nutriset.fr/) now own the Patent.   The Patent covers the production of nutritional paste-type foods.  It means that they can prevent non-licensees from producing similar products.  This has sparked challenges to the Patent.  The argument being that the Patent is too broad.  Two non-profit companies have now filed a suit against Nutriset.

So, it begs the question, should this product be protected by a commercial Patent?  In brief, Nutriset say it is necessary to restrict the production, so that competitors in the US are not able to cash in on this opportunity.  From the other side, however, they say that there should be no restrictions on the development or production of humanitarian foods.  It’s a complex issue that takes some looking into.

The argument and invention have been well documented over the last few years and there is much to weigh up.  However, to a layman, such as myself, it is extremely hard to comprehend.  Surely, if you have a product that can save so many lives, you should be doing all you can to distribute it?

People around the globe have been starving all my life.  It’s been more than 20 years since Live Aid and those haunting news scenes burst onto our screens.  It’s unimaginable that we may have a solution in our grasp and even more unimaginable that it’s now embroiled in a feud of this kind.

Sources: www.nutriset.fr, www.independent.co.uk, www.irinnews.org, www.nytimes.com, www.timesonline.co.uk, www.globalhealth.org

Georgina Micklethwaite writes for AfricanBrains and also has her own blog – http://worldofmick.wordpress.com