I caught an interesting segment on "60 Minutes" the other day. It was about an amazing food product called Plumpynut, which is supposedly going to revolutionize the treatment of malnutrition in Africa. It is a peanut-based paste that's high in protein, loaded with energy and requires no special preparation before eating. It also has a two-year shelf life when left unopened.
The paste is currently being distributed by the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders throughout Africa. Plumpynut is most often used in the most severe of malnutrition cases. It can make all the difference for a child on the brink of death.
"60 Minutes" raved about this miracle food for the entire length of the piece. I was happy that Plumpynut was going to save so many lives. But my excitement soon faded when, near the end of the very optimistic story, I heard a surprising statistic: In Niger, where the segment was filmed, the average woman will give birth at least eight times in her lifetime.
That fact, dropped in so casually at the end of the piece, apparently merited only a few seconds of coverage, but it said so much about how we deal with tragedy and devastation in Africa. Plumpynut is an unbelievable miracle for many individuals. But isn't it really just a Band-Aid for the malnutrition wound running across Africa?
Overpopulation and extreme poverty are at the heart of the malnutrition pandemic. Yet, we do very little to address these larger problems. Food products like Plumpynut are definitely needed - but so are programs aimed at distributing contraceptives and alleviating poverty.
We could save more lives if we focused our attention on the greater fundamental challenges present in Africa. Every American television watcher is inundated with commercials asking for money to feed those suffering from starvation. But what about asking for donations that will create educational programs and stable economic infrastructures?
Without a doubt, Africa is overlooked. We hardly notice that millions of people are needlessly dying each year from disease, warfare and famine. And when we do actually think about helping Africans, we deliver only superficial assistance. Plumpynut is just one of many examples of this.