Our round the world travel’s purpose is not only to see incredibly beautiful places. This journey is also to confront us with the reality of the world. Sometimes research is helpful to open our eyes to the situation of a country. It can allow a deeper understanding and knowledge about the daily life of the inhabitants. Therefore it is far from the beauty of Guatapé and of the valley of Cocora where we will guide you. Our journey passes across a laboratory of microbiology.
What? Microbiology does not seem to be a relevant theme to understand the daily life of the inhabitants of a country, does it?
This will no longer be the case once you will have heard about the work of María del Rocío Morato Rodríguez, a researcher in the Public Health Laboratory of Bogota.
She works on a genus of a bacterium called Cronobacter. These bacteria appeared in some newspapers for bad reasons. One of them: Cronobacter Sakazakii has caused the death of many babies around the world. It was found several times in the powdered formula of major brands and is potentially fatal for infants. If cases of infected infants are rare, they can be particularly severe because Cronobacter can cause meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain) or a general infection of the body.
Investigation in Bogotà
María kindly accepted to be interviewed and to share about her work. In Bogotà, she interviewed about 300 new parents to know how they were feeding their babies. The survey focused on babies from 0 to one year. One of the aims of Maria was to take samples of the powder food and to test the presence of Cronobacter. Very surprisingly for me, among the parents she interviewed, many use corn powder or banana powder to replace the baby formulas.
A social reality behind the use of these foods
This seems like a weird thing to do but in reality, it is due to the price of babies’ formula. Their cost makes it inaccessible for a large part of the population who live in poverty. Colombia is not an equal country in terms of distribution of wealth and the government does not financially help families to buy these infant formulas, unlike the Chilean and Argentinean governments. Parents use what they can to replace it and this explains the wide use of maize and banana powders to feed children less than 1-year-old.
Of course, the results of the sampling are edifying and Cronobacter is often found in the banana and corn powder samples1. It is among other causes, one of the possible factors of the high mortality of babies among the poor families of Colombia.
So what remedies?
As often, education solves many evils. None of the babies formulae is sterile contrary to what some leading brands let us think. The methods of making infant formula are just more stringent and have more controls than those of corn or banana powder. This is enough to make them much safer. But the most secure preparation relies on the method from the parents to mix the powder. They can eliminate Cronobacter simply by heating the water to at least 70 °C to prepare the baby food.
This work on the invisible makes it possible to reveal fractures that are clearly visible in Colombian society. It remains a difficult research because of the lack of funding in Colombia but it is an essential one as it has the potential to save lives.