The five-year study will be coordinated by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), together with the Fogarty International Center (FIC), and is funded by a $30m grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"The interactions between diarrheal diseases and malnutrition produce a vicious cycle that has devastating developmental consequences for the world’s poorest children. We have much to learn about this relationship and expect that the robust and expanding network that we are establishing will provide us with a wealth of useful information," said Fogarty director Dr Roger Glass.
FIC told NutraIngredients-USA.com that "there is an interest in including nutriceutials and certain amino acid supplements in a future phase of the project".
Poor nutrition in early childhood may lead to cognitive defects and poor physical development. It is also thought to increase susceptibility to and severity of infections, and diminish the effectiveness of childhood vaccines, explained NIH, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), twenty million children under the age of five are severely malnourished and more susceptible to illness.
Infections causing diarrhea can damage the intestines, impair nutrient absorption and impact the immune system.
The Mal-Ed initiative (Interactions of Malnutrition & Enteric Infections: Consequences for Child Health and Development) will work in collaboration with US universities and institutions in the developing world to create a standardized set of epidemiological tools that can be used to accurately study the link between intestinal infections, gut physiology and malnutrition.
“Understanding the complex and synergistic relationship between enteric infections and malnutrition is fundamental to the design of better intervention strategies,” states the program’s website.
The partnerships set up as part of the program will establish a network of urban and rural sites in Asia, Africa and South America, focusing on populations with a high prevalence of malnutrition and enteric infections.
The research data produced will be made available to the scientific community, and will also be used to assist health professionals and decision makers.
“One in every five children in the developing world is malnourished and poor nutrition is linked to more than half of all child deaths worldwide (…) The cycle continues as malnourished mothers give birth to low birth weight children who are more at risk for childhood disease and malnourishment,” writes Mal-Ed.
“This vicious cycle of malnutrition is compounded by the tremendous enteric infectious disease burden of children in the developing world. These infections alter gut integrity, impair absorption of nutrients and the resulting malnutrition increases susceptibility to and incidence of further infection and diminished immune response to vaccines.”