9 February 2010 The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is working to boost the nutrition of children at risk of malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases through state-of-the-art nuclear technology.
With children in the developing world often experiencing micronutrient deficiencies, such as too little iron, supplements have been routinely recommended. In Africa, the problem is compounded by malaria, which kills one million young people a year and is caused by parasites transmitted through infected mosquitoes.
Research in malaria-affected areas has shown that although iron-deficient children are helped by supplements, those with enough in their system are at the risk of becoming ill when they take the pills. Extra iron in the bloodstream could increase the chances of contracting malaria, with parasites reaching higher densities.
As a result, the IAEA is applying stable isotope technology to estimate the amount of absorbable iron in the body to provide a clearer picture for researchers studying the ties between iron absorption and the risk of infection.
“It’s one thing to give infants a dose of iron or a dose of zinc and then follow them for a year and see how many of them get sick, but that does not really tell you if they were healthier at the end of that year, why they were healthier,” said Nancy Krebs, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado-Denver’s School of Medicine in the United States.
The isotope studies, she said, give more insight into how the body is actually using the supplements or micronutrients being given, expressing gratitude to the IAEA for its work in this field.
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