Tuesday, May 3, 2016

03/05/2016: Leading the battle against ‘invisible malnourishment’

AwF’s woman of the month award for May goes to Dr Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted for the exceptional contribution her work has made in creating food-based systems to overcome micronutrient deficiencies in low-income countries across Asia and Africa. Shakuntala is currently Research Program Leader, Value Chains and Nutrition at WorldFish.
Shakuntala’s work focuses on the potential of small nutrient-rich fish in combating and preventing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, in particular, vitamin A, iron, zinc and calcium. She has carried out work in Bangladesh, Cambodia, West Bengal and Nepal, together with government institutions, universities and NGOs.

In Bangladesh, deficiencies of these nutrients are widespread effecting more than 20 million people, particularly women and young children.
With fishing community in West
Bengal, India
Intergenerational malnourishment occurs as pregnant and breast feeding women and their children are unable to access essential micronutrients due to social and economic factors. As a result, children can suffer irreversible damage that persists through life, stunting their growth and preventing normal brain development and cognition.

A sustainable source of essential fatty acids and micronutrients, including calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin B12 can be found in small indigenous fish. The small fish, mola can be farmed alongside other fish species, including carp in ponds and can be harvested frequently, making it ideal for regular household consumption. Produced locally at low cost, they can be cooked and eaten whole in a meal with rice and vegetables.

Dried small fish can also be made into chutney with onion, spices and oil and served as an accompaniment to daily meals for pregnant and lactating women, and a flour of dried small fish, orange sweet potato, rice and oil can be boiled with water and served as porridge for infants and young children.

Shakuntala speaking at Jeju 2015
Dr Craig A Meisner, Country Director, WorldFish South Asia, said this about AwF’s May 2016 champion: “Dr Shakuntala Thilsted is the most persistent person I have ever met.  This is a glowing complement.  She knows her nutrition science and is persistent to push for greater emphasis on nutrition in all our projects.  Because of her, WorldFish Bangladesh joined a 4-member coalition (SAVE, iDE, HKI) to conduct 7 years of nutritional research in NE Bangladesh, funded by EU-DFID.  Because of her, we are pushing for the use of the small indigenous fish in all our development projects.

"Because of her work, we are ready to scale out fish chutney and fish powder on a large scale empowering the private sector.  Truthfully, because of her persistence and insistence, the program of work in Bangladesh and throughout the world has broadened and due to that, our impact is much more measurable among the poor and malnourished.”

Shakuntala extends her influence in the international, regional and national fora as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the Nutrition Innovation Laboratory funded by Feed the Future, USAID. She plays a pivotal role in promoting the agenda of fish for improved nutrition as well as the importance of the fisheries sector in contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

With fisheries staff in
Mymensingh, Bangladesh
In 2015, she was a keynote speaker at the World Aquaculture conference in Jeju, Korea; speaker at the United Nations (UN) Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea at UN, New York; speaker at the Southeast Asian Conference on Eco-nutrition: From Concepts to Practice in Achieving Sustainable Diets, Los Baños, Philippines; speaker at the World Food Prize, Des Moines, Iowa; and speaker at UN World Food Security, meeting, FAO, Rome, Italy.

Director, Aquaculture and Genetic Improvement at WorldFish, Michael Phillips said “Shakuntala has also demonstrated a strong commitment to mentoring and providing opportunities for young staff and through that she has helped establish a new group of young scientists – working as interns, on PhDs and starting their careers – who will provide a strong foundation for continued development in a key area of fisheries and aquaculture.”

See a list of Dr Thilsted's 2015 papers and links to media coverage and YouTube videos on the AwF site HERE.

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