African nutrition experts seek home-grown solutions

Darfurians refugees in Eastern Chad
Copyright: Flickr/UNHCR, F. Noy

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  • Researchers assessed research priorities from 117 experts in 40 African nations
  • They found that nutritional research are donor-driven and focus on treatment
  • A focus on local problems and solutions is needed to solve nutrition problems

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[MUTARE, ZIMBABWE] African nutrition researchers and policymakers are calling for African-led indigenous knowledge and community-based approaches to solve major malnutrition problems and hunger haunting millions of people on the continent, a new study shows.

While malnutrition rates are in decline globally, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa lag behind due to lack of effective interventions, according to researchers from Belgium, Benin, the Netherlands, South Africa, Tanzania and the United Kingdom who undertook the study — Sustainable Nutrition Research for Africa in the Years to come (SUNRAY).

“Africa needs to take charge of [nutrition] research priorities if it is to beat hunger and malnutrition.”
Eunice Nago Koukoubou, University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin

The study — which was conducted from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2012 and funded by the European Union — focused on identifying solutions for addressing nutritional problems and research priorities in 40 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

SUNRAY researchers reviewed nutritional research publications on Sub-Saharan Africa published between 2000 and 2010, interviewed 117 nutrition experts in the 40 countries, and analysed the outcomes of three workshops they organised for African experts to help set nutritional research priorities for the region.

One of the resulting publications from the study was published in PLOS Medicine this week (28 January).

According to the study’s findings, nutrition programmes funded by foreign donors are generally focused on treatment and technical solutions rather than prevention and community-based interventions.

Eunice Nago Koukoubou, the study’s co-author and a nutrition consultant for the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, says their findings show that the continent’s real nutrition problems are not being identified and tackled because African researchers fail to take responsibility in identifying and solving the problems of their own populations.
“Africa needs to take charge of [nutrition] research priorities if it is to beat hunger and malnutrition,” she notes. “It is important that researchers find the best way to communicate with decision-makers, from problem identification to solution identification so that their findings serve in developing nutrition and health policies.”
Koukoubou tells SciDev.Net that African nutrition research has donor-driven agenda with poor collaboration between researchers on the continent and warns that if there is no paradigm shift, a lot of money would still be spent while nutrition problems would persist.
Lara Rickard, a dietician and nutritionist at Zimbabwe’s Murambi Gardens Hospital, applauds the researchers for identifying imperative gaps and links in nutritional policy and research, saying that community-based interventions will save the continent from nutritional problems.

“In a broader perspective, [the] research findings are targeted at [designing] policies that are home-grown and gel well to ease nutritional gaps in Africa and other developing countries,” says Rickard.
Link to full article in PLOS Medicine
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.


PLOS Medicine doi 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001593 (2014)