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African nutrition programmes must focus on prevention not treatment, warn researchers

By Nathan Gray+

29-Jan-2014

African nutrition programmes must focus on prevention not treatment, warn researchers

Nutrition programmes must shift from the idea of treatment to one of prevention if they are to  meet African needs, according to new EU-backed research.

The findings from the two-year SUNRAY (Sustainable nutrition research for Africa in the years to come) project warn that while many nutrition programmes currently focus the treatment of malnutrition by implementing initiatives based on vitamin and mineral supplementation, there is a greater need for community-based interventions that aim to prevent, rather than remedy, nutritional woes.

Writing in PLoS Medicine, the team behind the EU-funded project ask for an increase in prevention programmes, adding that Africa needs to take charge of research priorities in order to beat ongoing issues of malnutrition and hunger.

Led by project coordinator Prof. Patrick Kolsteren of the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp, the researchers call for additional efforts to promote cross-African networking of researchers, as well as interactions between researchers and policymakers.

“Africa needs to take charge of research priorities if it is to beat hunger and malnutrition. African research is mostly descriptive and generates too little new evidence," explained Dr. Eunice Nago Koukoubou of the Université d'Abomey-Calavi in Benin. "Most of it is driven by a donor-defined agenda and performed in collaboration with researchers from developed countries, while collaboration within Africa remains very poor."

Indeed, Nago Koukoubou added that in Benin several international agencies have implemented programmes intended to solve acute malnutrition - but the real malnutrition problem in the country, that of chronic malnourishment, remains.

“If donor countries and organisations, including the European Union, want to beat food insecurity and malnutrition, they need to change their approach,” said Kolsteren. “We need to shake up nutritional research in Africa and turn it upside down."

"Currently, researchers from developed countries search African partners for joint research based on funding and research priorities defined outside Africa. Instead, the research agenda should be based on needs identified within the continent. Calls for research proposals of donors should match this agenda,” he opined.

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