THE BLOG

How the Changing Marketplace of Food and Supplies is Saving Lives

05/18/2013 03:18 pm 15:18:26 | Updated Jul 18, 2013

Last year, as crops across the Sahel belt of West and Central Africa withered, and the sky stubbornly held onto its rain, Kaltuma Brahim was growing desperate. She knew her tiny son needed help. He'd been vomiting and losing weight for weeks, and even without a scale, she
knew he would die if she couldn't find help. So she got on a donkey, and rode, carrying her baby on her back along the dusty roads that led to Biltine, Chad.

Kaltuma doesn't remember how long she traveled. What she does remember is what doctors at the UNICEF-supported hospital did for Hassam.

They took her sick and starving child, and they saved him. They gave him antibiotics, and fortified milk. And they gave him special food--a peanut paste that seemed to make him gain weight with every bite.Hassam lived. As did 800,000 other children treated for severe acute malnutrition by UNICEF and its partners in the Sahel this past year, the largest intervention of its kind in the history of the region.The scale of this unprecedented response is due in large part to the
marketplace muscle of UNICEF, the world's largest buyer of the Readyto-Use Therapeutic Food used to feed Hassan, along with a host of other lifesaving supplies for children.

Between 2008 and 2012, UNICEF helped increase the world's supply of therapeutic food by more than 9,000 percent, traveling the world convincing potential manufacturers that if they made the paste, there would be demand. As a result, the number of companies making therapeutic food increased from four to 28--including the first-ever manufacturer based in the Sahel region.

This year, hundreds of thousands of children lived because of this change in the global market. And because of UNICEF's volume purchasing, prices for therapeutic food dropped by nearly 10 percent -- math that equates to more children saved.

The same thing happened in the world of vaccines and malaria. UNICEF buys 2 billion doses of various vaccines every year. When we started publishing the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies for those vaccines, prices dropped. The cost of a new rotavirus vaccine
was cut by nearly $500 million dollars--savings that will allow an additional 50 million children to be immunized against the second biggest killer of children under 5.

Similarly, we've driven the cost of an anti-malarial bed net down to less than $3 -- a 20 percent price reduction that has saved millions for an organization that buys 25 million bed nets a year.

We're also harnessing the power of technology to make a difference for children.

In Nigeria, less than half of the 6 million children born each year get a birth certificate. Without those records, a child is much less likely to get educated, be vaccinated, or receive health services. But in the last few years, two young UNICEF staffers have spearheaded the development of new technology that makes registering a birth as easy as sending a text. As a result, in the last 18 months, the births of more than 7 million Nigerian children have been recorded. The platform
they developed -- known as RapidSMS -- uses simple cell phones to deliver critical health and protection information. In addition to registering births, their work has helped deliver prenatal care to thousands of pregnant women in Rwanda, improved the diagnosis and treatment of HIV across Zambia, and tracked 63 million insecticide treated bed nets to ensure they got to the right place.

Every day, 19,000 children die of things we can prevent. At the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. That's a big problem -- and big problems only get solved with big solutions. That's what UNICEF does.
That's what UNICEF did -- and for Hassam, it made all the difference in the world.