During the COVID-19 crisis, the Nutriset Group's External Research and Nutritional Strategies department maintained its activities, despite operational difficulties in conducting field studies. Its director, Mamane Zeilani, speaks about the COVID-19 crisis in relation to research and the changes it can generate on how to manage malnutrition.
Questions to Mamane Zeilani, Director of External Research and Nutritional Strategies (ERNS)
What effects has the crisis had on the ongoing studies of the ERNS department?
Through academic research partnerships, our department currently conducts about eleven field studies in ten countries. Containment has, of course, had an impact on the good continuity of these field studies, particularly those that require the regular availability of test products to treat and/or prevent various forms of malnutrition.
"In our field of nutrition, I believe that the crisis can greatly accelerate the adoption by international organizations of a single protocol for the treatment of moderate and severe acute malnutrition."
But the sudden arrival of Covid-19 in our lives has also allowed us to deepen our long-held research on the link between nutrition and infectious diseases. The time of confinement was an intense moment of academic work, in connection with many researchers, reading and publishing publications, documentation on the subject.
At the same time, we also had to continue to provide technical support to the implementation, by governments in particular, of projects to scale up nutritional solutions such as SQ-LNS (Enov') to prevent undernutrition during the critical period of the first 1000 days, which range from conception to 24 months of young child. Preventing undernutrition during the "1000 days" is part, as is promoting the treatment of moderate and severe acute malnutrition with a simplified protocol and a unique product, the strategic axis most in line with our core business.
"A huge mass of studies will emerge and we need to quickly extract the data to be capitalized in order to actively participate in the effective integration of nutritional objectives into multidisciplinary health programmes."
Why is nutrition important for infectious diseases?
This is a subject we have been studying for a long time, notably through our studies and proposals for nutritional solutions for HIV patients. Good nutritional status, difficult to achieve in middle-income to low-income countries, is a prerequisite for our organization's implementation of an effective defence system against external aggression, whatever its nature. The studies of cases related to Covid-19 will allow us to deepen our knowledge on the particular role of specific nutrients allowing an adapted immune response to viral-type infections.
The role of nutrition, when infection is controlled and then when the patient is convalescing, will also be of great interest to the projects inherent in two strategic axes of the Nutriset Group, "Nutrition and Communicable Diseases" and "Nutrition and Noncommunicable Diseases". Infectious disease experts have, in the case of this pandemic, pointed to a possible worsening of Covid 19 disease in people with certain comorbidities. I am thinking, for example, of those who are overweight, obese, or people with diabetes. This last data is important for us because our reflections on the interaction between nutrition and diabetes type 2 have led us to prioritize the development of specific products and services.
"Studies of Covid-19-related cases will allow us to deepen our knowledge of the particular role of specific nutrients enabling an adapted immune response to viral-type infections."
What will be the impact of the crisis on the way you work in the future?
The Covid-19 crisis has, of course, strongly - and sustainably, in the long term , challenged all health sectors. Particularly in our field of nutrition, I think it can greatly accelerate the adoption by international organizations of a single protocol for the treatment of moderate and severe acute malnutrition. It has also strengthened thinking about the nutrition-disease (viral) joint. It is likely to open up new perspectives on questions aimed at clarifying the links between nutrition and immune response. I am thinking, for example, of HIV. It also shines a spotlight on the risks of so-called "civilization" diseases, such as overweight, obesity and associated pathologies. A huge mass of studies will emerge and we need to quickly extract the data to be capitalized in order to actively participate in the effective integration of nutritional objectives into multidisciplinary health programmes in the broadest sense.