Alex Kuznetsov: Fighting Malnutrition in Burkina Faso

Alex Kuznetsov, RD, joined the Peace Corps shortly after completing her dietetic internship. Placed in a small rural village in Burkina Faso, West Africa, for two years, she saw firsthand the effects of malnutrition. "Many women believe limited vision at night is a normal aspect of pregnancy, when in reality this is simply a manifestation of severe vitamin A deficiency. My host family’s courtyard was filled with young children and their large protruding, kwashiorkor-afflicted bellies," she says.

So Kuznetsov, motivated by a worldview that "every human being is a global citizen and each of our actions in one way or another influences others," coordinated and led a 12-day plan — dubbed the Hearth program — to remedy the situation.

What inspired you to undertake this work or project?
The 12-day program convened mothers and their malnourished children in order to provide nutrition education and rehabilitate the children. Mothers are taught the basics of nutrition and shown how to enrich baby porridge with locally available, seasonal ingredients. In order to ensure sustainability and cultural sensitivity, I trained a motivated community member to assist me with implementation. For the first six days of the program, I led cooking and education sessions. For the last six days, my community counterpart led the sessions, showing increased knowledge and skills for a sustainable future.

How has your work made a difference in your community?
Many of the malnourished babies gained weight from eating enriched baby porridge. Their mothers felt empowered because they could see tangible results from their efforts, and they realized that they had all of the ingredients and knowledge to prepare healthy, nutritious meals on their own.

What kind of feedback have you received?
The health clinic in my village was so pleased with the results of the Hearth model, they reached out to the regional department of health. The regional department of health felt it was important to spread the word about this program nationwide, so that other communities could repeat the process. A reporter visited my village and interviewed the program participants, providing them with nationwide recognition and allowing them to serve as role models for others.

What do you find most rewarding about your efforts?
Seeing a project I started progress and continue without me is truly inspiring. This shows that my community has acquired the skills and capacities to develop on their own, and will continue to do so long after I am gone. 

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Food & Nutrition Magazine publishes articles on food and diet trends, highlights of nutrition research and resources, updates on public health issues and policy initiatives related to nutrition, and explorations of the cultural and social factors that shape Americans’ diets and health.