Bill Gates has said he believes probiotics could help solve malnutrition over the next two decades.
On Monday morning, the Microsoft co-founder published an essay about the devastating impact of malnutrition.
The philanthropist stated that malnutrition is the “greatest health inequity in the world”, accounting for half of all childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
Gates explained that malnutrition causes the wasting away of the body and the stunting of growth, something that may be combatted by a “deeper understanding” of the “microbiome of the human body”.
“All of us rely on our body’s microbiome to function properly. We have more microbial cells living inside our bodies than human cells,” he wrote.
Nearly 20% of North Korean children stunted due to malnutrition “These bacteria protect us from infection and are particularly essential to digestion. For example, your body literally cannot break down certain types of plant fibres without an assist from the bacteria in your gut.”
Gates stated in The Telegraph that the scientific community is “in the relatively early stages of research into the microbiome”, adding that more knowledge will be garnered regarding individual microbial species over the next 10 to 20 years.
“That knowledge will allow us to smartly engineer interventions that ‘correct’ the microbiome when it’s out of whack,” he said.
“You’re probably familiar with one of these interventions: probiotics.”
The co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is committed to improving nutrition for women and children across the world, explained how in the future, scientists will be able to “create next-generation probiotic pills that contain ideal combinations of bacteria”, some of which could be “tailored to your specific gut”.
“If we can figure nutrition out – and I believe we will within the next two decades – we’ll save millions of lives and improve even more,” Gates concluded.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are believed to be beneficial for the health of the gut, the NHS explains.
They can usually be found in food products such as yoghurts or taken as food supplements.
However, the NHS warns that as probiotics are usually categorised as food as opposed to medicine, they are not tested in the same way that medicinal products would be.
“There’s likely to be a huge difference between the pharmaceutical-grade probiotics that show promise in clinical trials and the yoghurts and supplements sold in shops,” the health agency outlines.
Earlier this year, it was reported that hunger was the cause for almost half of all child deaths in Africa.
A report released by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) found that in 2018, 60 million African children were stunted in growth.
The report also said that 90 per cent of all children in Africa are malnourished or undernourished, and 60 per cent do not meet the minimum meal frequency threshold set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).