Stanley Zlotkin: Micronutrients for children in developing countries
Dr. Stanley Zlotkin was well into his career as a paediatrician when he discovered his talent for advocacy in advancing international health care.
About 14 years ago, he was challenged by UNICEF to come up with a solution to combat iron deficiency, a nutritional problem affecting millions of children worldwide. His solution, Sprinkles, took him on a journey around the world researching and advocating for the product and creating partnerships for production, delivery and implementation.
Iron deficiency is not a problem among children in developed countries. While Canadian children consume foods that have been enriched with iron and other vitamins and nutrients in factories, children in the developing world eat food that hasn’t been fortified.
Sprinkles is an amazing invention and an easy-to-use solution to the problem.
The product comes in small sachets, like packages of sugar used in coffee, full of vitamins and nutrients. The concept is simple and easy to use. Just one sachet of Sprinkles added to a child’s meal can improve the health of that child.
“When I was first asked by UNICEF to come up with a solution for iron deficiency, I never imagined it would turn into a project of this size and scope,” said Zlotkin. “It was when I came up with the idea, that I realized that this project had legs and it had the potential to help children around the world.”
Zlotkin knew that in order to succeed at production and delivery of Sprinkles he would need partners with the capacity for implementation in countries around the world – organizations such as UNICEF, The World Food Program and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
With the help of these groups and others, Zlotkin met with governments in countries around the world. At such meetings, he would typically present numbers showing that there was an iron deficiency problem among children in that region and suggest Sprinkles as a solution.
Before giving the Sprinkles program the go-ahead, many countries wanted data from their own nation rather than evidence from their general region. To meet this requirement, Zlotkin conducted a number of clinical trials, and sometimes these trials became part of existing primary health-care programs with visits to the home of mothers of newborns to talk about breast feeding, nutrition and immunization.
“I am trained as a paediatrician and a scientist, but I have no training in advocacy,” says Zlotkin. “It was really by the seat of my pants that I did the advocacy work. I realized at the very beginning that in order for this to get to the final stage – the knowledge translation and implementation stage – it was necessary to advocate with the appropriate partners.”
By 2009, four million children around the world had received packages of Sprinkles. The number grows every year. In the early stages of the project, Zlotkin and his team were the only ones working on Sprinkles. Now, thanks to the great partnerships that were created during the initial phases of the project, many organizations are responsible for the production and delivery of Sprinkles.
“When I talk about success for the Sprinkles program, I talk about losing control and giving ownership to others, something that most people would say is the opposite of success, but I completely disagree,” said Zlotkin. “The organizations that are now distributing Sprinkles have the infrastructure for wide-scale international delivery and more importantly have the infrastructure for sustainable delivery. These organizations have taken ownership to solve the problem of iron deficiency.”
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