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What is Therapeutic Food?

Therapeutic food is a type of nutrient-dense food used to treat acute malnutrition in children. Therapeutic foods contain added minerals and vitamins and are excellent sources of protein and energy. Because they are single food sources loaded with all required nutrients, they are an efficient way to help malnourished children recover from malnutrition.

WHAT IS RUTFs?

“RUTFs” stands for “Ready-to-use Therapeutic Foods.” RUTFs are a type of therapeutic food used in community-based treatment for uncomplicated forms of severe acute malnutrition. Typically, RUTFs are made from peanut-based paste, oil, sugar and powdered milk, with added vitamins and minerals.

RUTFs are a revolutionary development in treating malnutrition. Before RUTFs were invented, families would need to bring their children to inpatient treatment (aka clinics or hospitals) and stay there until their child recovered. Now, under the supervision of community health workers trained by Action Against Hunger, families can safely and effectively treat children at home with RUTFs. This model has been highly effective, and in recent years, RUTFs have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF READY-TO-USE THERAPEUTIC FOOD?

RUTFs are a staple of humanitarian aid because they are nutritionally suitable, easy to access, cost-efficient, and highly effective.

Firstly, RUTFs are safe to feed children with acute malnutrition. Children with severe acute malnutrition have difficulty digesting complex foods, which prevents them from gaining nutrients from regular food. But RUTFs are specifically engineered for children suffering from malnutrition. They are simple to digest and contain all the nutrients and energy that malnourished children need to recover. As an added benefit, because RUTFs do not require water, they reduce exposure to waterborne bacteria.

RUTFs are also convenient to access. They require no refrigeration and come ready to serve, ensuring that essential nutrients are not lost by the time the products are consumed. RUTFs also have excellent shelf lives, meaning…they can last up to 5 years? With no water, heating or preparation required, RUTFs avoid all of the major inconveniences of therapeutic milk-based products (which are the original treatment in inpatient care of severe acute malnutrition).

The lack of required preparation contributes to making RUTFs a cost-efficient treatment. Just three packets of RUTF a day for 45 days will bring a child back to full health, and an entire course of RUTF treatment only costs around USD $45, or $1 per day. RUTFs are also cost-efficient because they are highly effective. With a 90% success rate, RUTFs are an essential tool in treating malnutrition and saving children’s lives.

All these benefits enable parents to treat their children at home, meaning that families can save time and money on travel to health clinics. This is especially helpful to families who live in remote areas and cannot afford travel to distant health centres. Action Against Hunger integrates the use of RUTFs with community-based management, ensuring that children can get the care they need from their home village. The benefits of RUTFs, combined with the efficiency of the community care model, have allowed us to scale up operations and reach more children.