• Victor Mohan

The Reach Nutrition project explained

67 million tonnes of unused food is thrown away each year in India. That's enough food to feed the entire population of Bihar for an entire year. In economic terms, this equates to Rs. 92,000 Crores being lost annually. Yet, year after year, this figure is increasing; there is no scalable and sustainable solution in sight.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) recently introduced the Food Systems Dashboard. Describing the various components of global food system, the dashboard provides a user-friendly platform to examine and compare national and regional food systems. According to the data used by GAIN, vegetable losses have more than doubled since 2000. Keep in mind, this figure only represents produce lost in the supply chain. It does not even account for the food being thrown out of households, supermarkets and restaurants.

Several non-profits around the world have taken their own approach to tackling this problem at a micro-level. The Robinhood army, a national non-profit that taps unused food at restaurants and redirects it to the poor, is a personal favorite of ours. We urge you to view their work and consider supporting it.

At Reach Lives, our approach to this crisis is slightly different. Late last year, we introduced the Reach Nutrition initiative and since its inception, we have delivered over 7,000 meals to people in Bangalore. So how exactly does it work and why do we operate this program when our main focus is healthcare?

Nutrition as a pre-requisite for good health

At its very core Reach Lives is a non-profit that is committed to helping the marginalized access quality healthcare. Ask any expert, however, and they will tell you how difficult a task this is. You see, healthcare delivered to patients in isolation is seldom enough to cure them. Absolute pre-requisites include a healthy immune system, healthy lifestyle, healthy environment and perhaps most importantly, good nutritional status.

Now, let me introduce you to some of the common health problems we tackle in our operations. Diabetes and Hypertension and their myriad complications account for a staggering 55% of DALYs (a measure that quantities the burden of disease) annually in India. So it is pretty obvious that much of our work is centered on these diseases. On the plus side, all that is required are dietary and lifestyle modifications in the early stages. On the downside, all that is effective are dietary and lifestyle modifications in the early stages. No matter what treatment you prescribe a patient, s/he isn't going to recover if his/her nutritional status is left uncorrected.

On the other hand, we have children; Respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, malaria... we all know the diseases that affect them. But the common requirement for timely recovery? Adequate nutrition.

Now imagine the Reach Lives team working with a community and raising awareness on the need for proper nutrition to help these patients effectively respond to medication. How effective would our work be if we left daily-wage laborers with the message, "eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and you will be healthy." Clearly then, nutritional support is necessary to offset the costs involved in procuring 'fresh' vegetables and fruits. This is precisely why we launched the Reach Nutrition initiative.

How does it work?

Our work begins with understanding the nutritional requirements of our patients. Children need calorie-rich nutritional supplements to help their growth, adults with lifestyle diseases need healthy alternatives to their traditional diet that is both acceptable to their palate and affordable for our non-profit. Our team works with these individuals during medical outreach events to understand their nutritional requirements. We then leverage the network of supermarkets and restaurants who partner with us to procure produce and food that meets the requirements of these specific populations.

Produce and food is then delivered through myriad mechanisms, either directly to the community or through various home shelters and local non-profits. For instance, the Bangalore Urban Night Shelter is home to over 50, mostly elderly, individuals who are at an increased risk for or are already diagnosed with the lifestyle diseases we discussed earlier. Volunteers at the shelter assist in delivering meals that are both nutritionally effective and culturally acceptable to the residents of the shelter.

A Reach lives volunteer with the residents of the Urban Night Shelter

The program has been running for just over 8 months through the generosity of our many individual sponsors and the concomitant medical treatment and nutritional support has begun displaying strong signs of effectiveness among the residents.

Where do we go from here?

As we continue to expand our healthcare operations to other states in India, nutritional support is going to continue to be an important component of our services. We specifically intend to expand on our capabilities through partnerships with other non-profits who are specifically in the nutrition space. In the meantime, if you are interested in experiencing our work first-hand, consider volunteering with us. We have several opportunities available.