Dietetics Professor Contributes to Capacity Building for Nutrition in the DRC
Professor Frederick Veldman of Dietetics and Human Nutrition in UKZN’s School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences (SAEES) visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) recently as part of the five-year GROWNUT project with the University of Bergen’s Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED) and the University of Kinshasa (UniKin).
GROWNUT began in 2013 to build capacity in UniKin’s School of Public Health through masters and PhD programmes in nutritional epidemiology, to train staff members, and to conduct research.
Veldman, who helps develop curricula and teaching materials, and teaches and supervises students, travelled to the DRC together with Professor Anne Hatløy of NORHED, Professor Mala Mapatano of UniKin, and research assistant, Mr Andre du Toit, to lend moral support, supervise interns, lecture, and introduce FoodFinder3 dietary intake analysis software sponsored by the SA Medical Research Council. The visit included meeting the DRC’s Director of the National Institute of Nutrition (PRONANUT), Professor J.P. Banea.
Veldman visited UniKin and interacted with medical students doing their three-month internship in the impoverished rural town of Popokabaka 450km outside Kinshasa. Assessments are focused on vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women. Malnutrition is widespread - almost half of those observed suffer from growth stunting and almost 1 in 10 show signs of wasting. Obesity is rare.
‘There is a shortage of health data for Popokabaka, which will hopefully be improved through GROWNUT,’ said Veldman.
Living quarters have no running water or electricity, with limited solar power. Subsistence farming and fishing yield a diet dominated by green leaves, cassava, amadumbe-like sweet potatoes and the maize staple, fufu. There is little meat so food choices remain conservative.
Veldman said there was potential for more diverse cultivation.