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SPOTLIGHT: Global Health Center collaborator aids malnourished women and children in Africa

Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health

Joining WashU’s Department of Medicine in 2022, Kevin Stephenson, MD engages in research focused on improving the treatment of acute malnutrition in children and pregnant women in Sierra Leone, Malawi, and Ghana. His dedicated engagement with the Global Health Center at the Institute for Public Health and WashU’s Department of Medicine brings him into this month’s Global Health Spotlight.
Kevin Stephenson

Kevin Stephenson says he works with a stellar research team, which includes Mark Manary, MD, the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics, who runs clinical trials in the above-mentioned countries. The team has published results of a trial showing that improving the fatty acid balance of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) resulted in better cognitive development in Malawian children age six months to five years old, who had suffered from severe acute malnutrition. These findings prompted the United Nation’s food regulatory agency, Codex Alimentarius, to change their guidelines for the fatty acid content of RUTF; guidelines which are now used worldwide by RUTF producers. This change will positively affect the health of millions of children each year.

Stephenson and team have also completed trials investigating the mechanism by which milk products improve recovery from malnutrition as well as the role of milk powder in a peanut-based ready-to-use school food designed to improve cognition in rural Ghanaian children.

Here in St. Louis, Stephenson frequently engages with the Global Health Center at the Institute for Public Health and the Department of Medicine via monthly Early Stage Investigator meetings, which nurture global health investigators in early stage research methods, projects and proposals. He has also been a presenter at Global Health Work in Progress meetings at which grants, papers or new ideas are presented to local and international global health practitioners for feedback. 

Always willing to jump in with both hands to assist, in addition to his collaboration at global health meetings and presentations, Stephenson has also helped review global health-related grant proposals.

“All [of these activities] have helped me connect with WashU’s global health community,” said Stephenson. “I look forward to developing collaborations that can strengthen my work and provide new avenues for investigation.”

For students and faculty who are interested in global health, he adds that engaging with the Global Health Center is a great way to advance research and innovations in the field.

I highly recommend working with the center! My sense is that global health is growing at WashU and this is an exciting time to join and help build it.

Kevin Stephenson

Stephenson’s current work is supported by USAID, the Danish Dairy Research Foundation, and Open Philanthropy.