Dr Getrude Mphwanthe became the first LUANAR’s registered dietitian after being certified by the Commission on Dietetic Registration/Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (USA) in July this year.
Dr Mphwanthe was awarded a PhD in Human Nutrition from Michigan State University (MSU) in May last year.
She is a Lecturer in Dietetics and also African Futures Fellow.
Our reporter engages her on different issues surrounding dietetics in the country.
How big is the problem of malnutrition in the country? In Malawi, we are currently facing different forms of malnutrition, chronic stunting (37%) in children under five years of age, micronutrient deficiencies (iron, zinc, and selenium), as well as hospital-acquired malnutrition.
Unfortunately, diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are also steadily increasing in Malawi, with 21% of women of reproductive age being overweight/obese, 4.
7% of adults have diagnosed diabetes, and 32.
9% are hypertensive.
If not adequately addressed, these conditions will have serious consequences on the productivity, growth, and development of the nation.
How can dietetics address this problem? Human health is directly associated with diet-diversity and healthy food intake.
All the forms of malnutrition that the country is experiencing are emanating from inadequate dietary intakes, and unhealthy food and lifestyle choices.
The field of dietetics provides a deeper understanding of how the food we consume affects health and well-being for the prevention and management of different conditions.
Therefore dietitians will help solve nutrition-related problems through a holistic approach by using evidence-based practices and medical nutrition therapy skills within the context of the socio-ecological environment by designing culturally relevant individualized, community and hospital-level interventions suitable to clients’ needs or medical condition/s.
As a country are we doing enough to address this? Addressing malnutrition requires collaborative efforts at different levels.
Nutrition policy, strategic planning, and other general guiding documents have stipulated what needs to be done as a country.
However, inadequate resources – allocated for nutrition interventions, research, and education hinder the thorough implementation of nutrition activities.
Additionally, addressing malnutrition requires an individual level of dietary and lifestyle behavior change.
A multipronged approach that includes a closer look at how food choices are made and the extent to which food access is a problem are essential for Malawi.
As well as support for enhanced nutrition guidance at the governmental level, for instance, improved nutrition labeling of foods will significantly facilitate the efficacy of addressing nutrition interventions and education and key malnutrition concerns.
What are the initiatives that LUANAR is doing as far as dietetics is concerned? Frankly, LUANAR provides a strong comprehensive foundation in nutrition through the Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Food Science program and is the only higher learning institution in the country that has successfully trained two cohorts of clinical dietitians at postgraduate diploma level.
The first cohort was recruited by the Ministry of health, while the second cohort is pending graduation.
Additionally, LUANAR has also enrolled students in a master's degree in a clinical dietetics program, which is highly recommended globally and excellent for developing this type of expertise in the country.
Training of dietitians at the master’s degree level will elevate our dietitians' skills to better articulate and be actively engaged in nutrition issues through evidence-based practice for optimal nutrition and Malawians' well-being.
What was your research about? Many Malawians, regardless of age, are silently dying due to complications from poorly managed diet-related non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart failure, liver disease, cancer, kidney disease, and hypertension.
Therefore, I have a strong research interest in how the Malawian diets and food environment impact diet-related non-communicable conditions throughout the lifecycle, using different clinical biomarkers.
As such, my research has recently focused on elucidating the extent to which Malawian diets influence blood glucose control using glycosylated hemoglobin as a biomarker in adults clinically diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
In summary, I found that most study participants have clinically elevated blood glucose, significantly above the recommended target.
Additionally, conflicting dietary information, food access, and lack of individualized meal plans impacted their nutritional intakes, subsequently leading to the development of diabetes-related comorbidities such as loss of sight, amputation of the lower extremities, and kidney failure.
Any other comments When medically diagnosed with any condition that requires dietary modifications, assistance from a registered dietitian must be sought for evidence-based nutrition recommendations relevant to the person's cultural, medical, and social needs.
Unfortunately, various platforms are flooded with quick and not sustainable dietary recommendations, with no scientific verification, and seek to promote income for some rather than provide the needed information that those who are ill or at-risk need.