AYACUCHO, Peru – A simple yet innovative biscuit enriched with iron has been proposed by a university student as a solution to chronic childhood anemia across Peru, where four in 10 children go on to suffer lifelong consequences of low-iron intake.
Nutri Hierro is the name given to this “anti-anemia biscuit” by its developer, Julio Garay, a 25-year-old agro-industrial engineer for the Southern Andean region of Ayacucho, where nearly half of the children under three suffer irreversible longterm physical damage to their cognitive development due to anemia.
“My dream is to contribute in decreasing anemia levels in Ayacucho and other regions,” Garay told EFE during an interview at a small facility producing these biscuits capable of eliminating infant anemia within one month.
That was the conclusion following diverse tests undergone in seven Ayacucho municipalities, both in urban and rural regions, where anemia affects up to 50 percent of children.
Anemia is a decrease in the total amount of red blood cells that reduces blood’s ability to carry oxygen.
Symptoms may include tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath or limited capacity to exercise.
Its causes include iron deficiency, lack of vitamin B12 and even inherited blood disorders.
The biscuit is the result of Garay’s doctoral thesis presented at Peru’s National University of San Cristobal de Huamanga, where he was able to study thanks to a State grant available to young low-income Peruvians.
“I expected some results within three months but hemoglobin levels among the children improved in only one month,” Garay said.
One of the trials took place in the hamlet of Patibamba, where anemic children who ate four biscuits a day increased their hemoglobin to an acceptable level or higher.
“I was really amazed,” said Diego Flores, the doctor in charge of the medical mission in Patibamba who carried out the medical tests on the children.
“Although hemoglobin must be normalized within four weeks by means of conventional treatment, these biscuits raised the children’s hemoglobin to unexpected levels,” Flores said.
The doctor did warn that, in order for the treatment to remain fully effective, it must be maintained for at least six months.
“This could change the future of a complete country. Overcoming anemia, especially among the under-3 age group is very important to a country like Peru because we are a populous nation and without anemia, we will become more prosperous,” Flores added.
Maria Quispe, the mother of a two-year-old girl with anemia, told EFE the biscuits were “fantastic” and “provided them (the children) with a boost of energy.”
These encouraging results are directly related to the biscuit formula created by Garay. The biscuits contain cow blood, a cheap ingredient with a high iron content and proteins that is often discarded in abattoirs.
The blood that is transformed into a puree totals 50 percent of each biscuit, while 30 percent is quinoa, 10 percent is wheat flour and 10 percent is cocoa that Garay’s parents grow themselves in the Quimpitiriky community, which is used to mask the taste of blood.
At his small production plant, made possible by a loan and support from the Aje Group, one of Peru’s largest business holdings, Garay hopes to spread his anti-anemia biscuits across Ayacucho and the neighboring province of Huancavelica, where infant anemia remains heavily entrenched.
Anemia is the world’s most common blood disorder, affecting about a third of the global population, while iron-deficiency anemia affects nearly 1 billion people.
“The best of this whole experience is that I can contribute to improving people’s health,” Garay concluded.