Sustainability is at the core of Oviita. Our central goal is to address current shortcomings in Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) mitigation, where communities are left reliant on ongoing supplementation from higher bodies. By providing a nutritional yeast rich in vitamin A, communities are able to produce their own renewable, local supply of dietary vitamin A which can be added to their food. This technology has the potential to improve the health and security of many of the 250 million children estimated to currently suffer from VAD (WHO, 2013).
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 3
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
In answer to the UN call for improved health worldwide, we set our sights on Vitamin A deficiency, a leading cause of preventable childhood blindness and mortality. Lack of Vitamin A causes loss of immune function, stunting, loss of sight, and eventually death (WHO, 2013). However, vitamin A supplementation programs are far from an ideal solution. Biannual vitamin A supplements are often inadequate to provide a long-term storage of vitamin A in the body, and have even been associated with slightly increased negative health outcomes regarding respiratory infections (Latham, 2010). Because Oviita ensures a constant supply of small, regular doses of the non-toxic beta carotene, it may prevent the negative effects of massive retinol dosage from biannual supplements.
Furthermore, as communities can produce the yeast supply locally using readily-available materials, they would no longer be reliant on ongoing aid. The need for this self-dependence is heavily underscored by the current pandemic, where outbreaks and shutdowns in distribution or production centres can leave whole regions in a renewed state of deficiency. Dr. Wilson, a nutritional anthropologist, informed us that the unsustainable nature of humanitarian programs including nutritional supplementation often causes detrimental effects on community health once the program ends. Our community-sustained solution can improve on existing methods by ensuring long-term nutritional security and independence.
Dr. Sanou Dia and Lourlin Ugdiman brought to our understanding another factor complicating current vitamin A initiatives. Even where adequate vitamins are present in the diet, deficiency may still occur because chronic intestinal parasitism can inhibit the ability of the intestines to absorb them. To ensure vitamin absorption and attack deficiency from another angle, Oviita also produces a safe anti-parasitic, anthelmintic agent: thymol. Thymol destroys the worms and their eggs, while leaving human intestines unharmed, thereby renewing uptake of essential micronutrients. Furthermore, eliminating intestinal worms has the added result of preventing parasitic complications including delayed growth, reduced cognitive function, and other severe medical complications (Haque, 2007).
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 5
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
To distribute our yeast, we intend to take a page from the book of organizations like the Yogurt Mamas of Western Heads East. These programs teach local women’s groups how to create a nutritious probiotic yogurt, which they can sell for a profit from small grassroots kitchens in order to both make a living for themselves and nourish their communities. Inspired by them, we plan to equip women’s organizations with the training and equipment to cultivate yeast, sell it, and teach others, in order to develop small-scale microenterprises. This approach was validated by Indian rural health care worker Dharamwati, who believed that local women would be keen to adopt our technology as a supplementary source of independent income, particularly knowing that it would ensure improved health for their families.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 1 and 10
End poverty in all its forms everywhere; and reduce inequality within and among countries
Oviita generates new sources of revenue, particularly for women and sustenance farmers: two groups who are often economically sidelined and disadvantaged. Demand for agricultural waste as yeast feedstock can create additional revenue streams for farmers from their crop stubble, an often unused and freely available resource. This additional revenue can fund the planting of higher-yielding seed, purchase of nutritional food for their families, and improve their general well-being. The production and sale of yeast can also be taught to women’s grassroots organizations, providing a source of independent income based on their skills and knowledge.
Reduction of poverty is also an important and indirect result of any large-scale health intervention. Blindness, chronic infection, and stunted growth are all direct results of Vitamin A deficiency with serious and lifelong economic repercussions. Through effects such as vision loss, micronutrient deficiency can permanently stunt the economic potential of its victims. And since vitamin A deficiency is a disease disproportionately found in the poorest populations (WHO, 2013), this means that it is primarily those who are already at an economic disadvantage who must bear the further burden of ill health. By creating a system of sustainable and inexpensive prevention, we give a more equal footing for individuals to pursue financial security.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 13
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
By using agricultural waste as feedstock for the yeast, we reduce the air pollution associated with the traditional burning of agricultural waste that occurs in some areas. For example, in Delhi, India, the burning of rice stubble in fields adjacent to the city is a major contributing factor in air pollution and smog (Beig et al., 2020). Given that India has one of the highest incidences of vitamin A deficiency worldwide (WHO, 2009) there is enormous potential for agricultural waste to instead be channeled toward local yeast cultivation, incentivizing farmers to sell their agricultural waste as yeast feedstock.
Beig, G., Sahu, S. K., Singh, V., Tikle, S., Sobhana, S. B., Gargeva, P., Ramakrishna, K., Rathod, A., & Murthy, B. S. (2020). Objective evaluation of stubble emission of North India and quantifying its impact on air quality of Delhi. Science of The Total Environment, 709. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136126
Haque, R. (2007). Human Intestinal Parasites. Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition, 25(4): 387–391.
Latham, M. (2010). The great Vitamin A fiasco. World Nutrition, 1(1). Retrieved October, 2020, from https://hetv.org/pdf/the-great-vitamin-a-fiasco-world-nutrition-may2010.pdf
World Health Organization (WHO). (2013). Micronutrient deficiencies. World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/#:%7E:text=Vitamin%20A%20deficiency%20(VAD)%20is,the%20risk%20of%20maternal%20mortality.
World Health Organization (WHO). (2009). Global prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in populations at risk. WHO Global Database on Vitamin A Deficiency. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/44110/9789241598019_eng.pdf?sequence=1