Infant mortality in developing countries is depressingly high, with 3.6 million children dying each year in the neonatal period. Unlike many other global health issues, this one is easily fixable–cutting down on deficiencies of micronutrients like folic acid in women of childbearing age could dramatically reduce infant deaths.
So last fall, Scientists Without Borders, a platform that crowdsources solutions to scientific
problems, set out to work on the issue with a $10,000 challenge that asked entrants to solve the problem of folic acid deficiency in women throughout the developing world with simple, low-cost solutions. This week, the winners were announced.
First place in the PepsiCo-sponsored Maternal Health and Nutrition Prize went to Carlos Miranda, an Argentinian pharmaceutical manager and amateur athlete (he has completed several marathons and an Ironman competition) living in New Zealand. Miranda scored $6,000 for his ultra-simple solution: table salt that has been triple-fortified with folic acid and vitamins B12 and B6.
Miranda, who works at a human nutrition research lab at Massey University, came up with the idea during a three-week vacation from work. While looking for studies linking folic acid deficiencies with neural tube defects (birth defects in the brain and spinal cord), Miranda stumbled upon several highlighting the importance of the folic acid/B12/B6 combination in infant health. That’s when he thought of the triple-fortified salt idea.
“All the ingredients are very cheap because of the low proportion in the
formula. More than 99% of the formula is common table salt and when buying it in bulk quantities, the price goes very low,” he explains.
Miranda plans to use his winnings to continue research on triple-fortified salt–in his spare time, of course.
Second place in the competition went to freelance researcher
Pushpakaran K. Thiyadi for the idea to microencapsulate folic acid, and third place went to a team of graduate students from Northwestern University who hope to use microfinance for folic acid distribution.
[Image by TheGiantVermin]