Since 2014, the government of Cuba and the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) have supported a joint project to tackle the country’s high childhood anemia rates. The solution: A fortified micronutrient powder that has earned the nickname “magical sprinkles” for its effectiveness.
Dubbed Chispitas (or “Sprinkles To Grow”) in Cuba, the micronutrient powder contains 16 essential vitamins and minerals that help prevent and control anemia, a type of nutritional deficiency that can be especially damaging for children under the age of three.
When asked about how her one-year-old daughter’s health has improved since WFP began providing the micronutrient powder, Marta Salazar could barely contain her excitement.
“Those Chispitas seem magical,” Salazar said during a radio broadcast dedicated to childhood nutrition in Las Tunas province earlier this year.
“Now my daughter is playing with more enthusiasm, and even though she used to eat well, it’s different now. She is always hungry—in a good way!”
As part of the project’s launch in November 2014, more than 116,000 children in five of Cuba’s eastern provinces received the so-called sprinkles. The powder is easy to use and doesn’t require refrigeration or special preparation. Parents can simply sprinkle it onto their children’s daily meals at home.
Along with the food supplement, parents like Salazar are also receiving educational brochures prepared by WFP and national health authorities about the importance of dietary diversity, hand-washing and safe cooking techniques to prevent the spread of illness and disease, which can hamper a child’s ability to properly absorb nutrients.
“We cannot miss this opportunity to improve the quality of life of our children,” said Mary Esther Fernández, another mother who called the radio program earlier this year to encourage other mothers in the region to use the nutritional supplement.
“It may not be visible immediately, but yes, in the long term it will improve the development of our small ones.”
The joint effort between WFP and the government of Cuba has been a key factor in the initiative’s success. Recently, a WFP assessment team toured cities and communities on the eastern coast to evaluate the progress of the Chispitas.
“We learned that this is a community-based project,” said WFP nutritionist Lisett Selva. “This approach led the families to understand the importance of preventing anemia and to get actively involved in the process.”
Iron-deficiency anemia remains the most prevalent nutritional deficiency in the Cuban population. It is of the upmost importance that families have access to and are aware of the effectiveness of Chispitas.
“Anemia is a public health problem and therefore we appreciate the support and assistance that WFP has had over the last 10 years, contributing in terms of expert advice, technical assistance and resources, have been very useful for our programs,” said Terry White, Director of the Nutrition Centre of the National Institute of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology (INHEM).
Cuba joins a long list of countries where WFP has successfully reduced anemia rates using the micronutrient powder, including the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Peru, Haiti and Ecuador. WFP plans to continue the initiative through 2018 in areas of Cuba where child anemia rates are the highest.