At first look, the Ebola outbreak is a medical crisis but it is also a nutritional one, says Simin Nikbin Meydani, D.V.M, Ph.D., the director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and a nutritional immunologist who researches the role of nutrients in the prevention of infectious and inflammatory diseases.
The current crisis underscores the seriousness of food scarcity in West Africa. “Malnutrition is the primary cause of immunodeficiency worldwide,” Dr. Meydani says. “West Africa has long struggled with a food crisis brought on by drought, poor harvests and high prices. If a vaccine were to be developed, how effective would it be in a malnourished person with impaired abilities to produce antibodies and cell-mediated responses?”
“While the barriers to better nourishing the global population have never been more complex, we have even more reason to strive to do so,” Dr. Meydani says. “Not only would it alleviate the perennial hunger that persists in regions around the world, it may deter Ebola and other disasters like Ebola from happening again and again and reduce mortality from them.”
In addition to her appointments at Tufts University, Dr. Meydani is the president of the American Society for Nutrition.