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This issue of the Food and Nutrition Bulletin contains three articles that will be of practical interest and value to quite different constituencies.
Lathyrism has long been a crippling neurological disorder among the poor of Asian countries who depend on the seeds of the plant Lathyrus sativus as a major food source, especially in times of food scarcity. The principal substance responsible, a neuro-active amino acid, has been known for over a decade, but the condition has continued to take its toll. The article by Jahan and Ahmad describes a simple, overnight procedure that can destroy the toxin and improve availability. Interestingly, it is essentially the same as the method used traditionally in Mexico and Central America to improve the palatability and coincidentally the protein value of the maize that is the dietary staple. It is a solution that should prove practical and acceptable.
A second paper by the same authors contains a suggestion that could greatly reduce the bacterial contamination of unsafe rural water sources. It is based on the addition of a small amount of alum, a substance already well known in both Asian and Latin American villages. It still remains to be demonstrated whether this will be of practical significance in further improving the already impressive results of oral rehydration of severe diarrhoea cases, even when contaminated water is used. However, this can now be tested, and it should also prove to be a simple means of improving the quality of water supplies for the family as a whole.
Beginning on page 27, this issue also contains guidelines developed for the UNU/UNICEF research network for evaluation of the effects of programmes of nutrition and primary health care at the household level. They are already being applied by social scientists in 14 developing countries. Nutritionists are usually concerned with the biological impact of programmes, but this can generally be predicted from their effects on the nutritional and health-seeking behaviour of individuals involved. These guidelines give practical directions for the application of anthropological techniques that are adaptable to the evaluation of the effects on family health and welfare of intervention programmes of any kind.
Nevin S. Scrimshaw
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