Effect of Short-Term Supplementation with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food or Micronutrients for Children after Illness for Prevention of Malnutrition: A Randomised Controlled Trial in Uganda

van der Kam, Saskia; Roll, Stephanie; Swarthout, Todd; Edyegu-Otelu, Grace; Matsumoto, Akiko; Kasujja, Francis Xavier; Casademont, Cristian; Shanks, Leslie; Salse-Ubach, Nuria
February 2016
PLoS Medicine;2/9/2016, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p1
Academic Journal
journal article
Background: Globally, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treats more than 300,000 severely malnourished children annually. Malnutrition is not only caused by lack of food but also by illnesses and by poor infant and child feeding practices. Breaking the vicious cycle of illness and malnutrition by providing ill children with nutritional supplementation is a potentially powerful strategy for preventing malnutrition that has not been adequately investigated. Therefore, MSF investigated whether incidence of malnutrition among ill children <5 y old could be reduced by providing a fortified food product or micronutrients during their 2-wk convalescence period. Two trials, one in Nigeria and one in Uganda, were conducted; here, we report on the trial that took place in Kaabong, a poor agropastoral region of Karamoja, in east Uganda. While the region of Karamoja shows an acute malnutrition rate between 8.4% and 11.5% of which 2% to 3% severe malnutrition, more than half (58%) of the population in the district of Kaabong is considered food insecure.Methods and Findings: We investigated the effect of two types of nutritional supplementation on the incidence of malnutrition in ill children presenting at outpatient clinics during March 2011 to April 2012 in Kaabong, Karamoja region, Uganda, a resource-poor region where malnutrition is a chronic problem for its seminomadic population. A three-armed, partially-blinded, randomised controlled trial was conducted in children diagnosed with malaria, diarrhoea, or lower respiratory tract infection. Non-malnourished children aged 6 to 59 mo were randomised to one of three arms: one sachet/d of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), two sachets/d of micronutrient powder (MNP), or no supplement (control) for 14 d for each illness over 6 mo. The primary outcome was the incidence of first negative nutritional outcome (NNO) during the 6 mo follow-up. NNO was a study-specific measure used to indicate progression to moderate or severe acute malnutrition; it was defined as weight-for-height z-score <-2, mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) <115 mm, or oedema, whichever came first. Of the 2,202 randomised participants, 51.2% were girls, and the mean age was 25.2 (±13.8) mo; 148 (6.7%) participants were lost to follow-up, 9 (0.4%) died, and 14 (0.6%) were admitted to hospital. The incidence rates of NNO (first event/year) for the RUTF, MNP, and control groups were 0.143 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.107-0.191), 0.185 (0.141-0.239), and 0.213 (0.167-0.272), respectively. The incidence rate ratio was 0.67 (95% CI, 0.46-0.98; p = 0.037) for RUTF versus control; a reduction of 33.3%. The incidence rate ratio was 0.86 (0.61-1.23; p = 0.413) for MNP versus control and 0.77 for RUTF versus MNP (95% CI 0.52-1.15; p = 0.200). The average numbers of study illnesses for the RUTF, MNP, and control groups were 2.3 (95% CI, 2.2-2.4), 2.1 (2.0-2.3), and 2.3 (2.2-2.5). The proportions of children who died in the RUTF, MNP, and control groups were 0%, 0.8%, and 0.4%. The findings apply to ill but not malnourished children and cannot be generalised to a general population including children who are not necessarily ill or who are already malnourished.Conclusions: A 2-wk nutrition supplementation programme with RUTF as part of routine primary medical care to non-malnourished children with malaria, LRTI, or diarrhoea proved effective in preventing malnutrition in eastern Uganda. The low incidence of malnutrition in this population may warrant a more targeted intervention to improve cost effectiveness.Trial Registration: clinicaltrials.gov NCT01497236.


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