Changing lives with probiotics in Africa

A Western University researcher is hoping to change the lives of people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda with a small sachet of freeze-dried bacteria.

Gregor Reid, PhD, professor, Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is one of the world’s foremost experts on probiotics – microorganisms which have many health benefits, but which are not readily available to people in low income countries.

Reid is working with Yoba-for-Life, Heifer International and Joma Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, to distribute one gram sachets containing probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 bacteria donated by Reid, and a unique Streptococcus thermophilus strain, for around $0.50 each in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

When added to milk, each sachet can produce 100 litres of yogurt and provide income for the local producers as well as revenue for farmers. The development of this program – “Fermented Food for Life” – received a $1.45 million dollar grant from the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund – a joint program of Global Affairs Canada and the International Development Research Centre. The grant has the potential to reach one million people.

Named FiTi, the word for “health” in Swahili, the yogurt produced from these sachets is the same as that pioneered by the Western Heads East “Yogurt Mamas” program, but is now easier to produce, empowering many more groups of people to  set up their own yogurt kitchens, and earn income from the sales.

“This system empowers people to support themselves and their communities,” said Reid. “This is especially important for women to provide meaningful employment, support for their families and gain respect from their peers.”

Probiotic yogurt contains more nutrients than regular milk, and is a nutritious option for malnourished people. It is also beneficial for the prevention and treatment of diarrhea, the main cause of death and illness in children in Africa, and a serious condition for people living with HIV-AIDS.

A yogurt kitchen is also being planned for London, Ont. as a model for the Fermented Food for Life program. The kitchen will serve as a training ground for students, some who will serve as interns with the Western Heads East program, and a source of affordable nutrition for Londoners with lower incomes.

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The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery.