UZ programme to solve food and nutrition security issues


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By Byron Mutingwende


In line with its key strategic thrust, the Institute of Food Nutrition and Family Sciences (IFNFS) of the University of Zimbabwe plans to launch a new Master of Science (MSc) degree in Human Nutrition programme that is meant to produce highly qualified nutrition cadres who will contribute to the solving of food and nutrition security issues for Zimbabwe, Africa and beyond.


In his remarks during the stakeholders’ consultative and validation workshop on the proposed MSc in human nutrition curriculum, Dr. Chakare Benhura, the Chairperson of the IFNFS said the programme was meant to bridge the knowledge gaps in addressing nutrition challenges.


“The MSc in Human Nutrition program is designed to provide students with knowledge and skills needed to systematically analyze major nutritional problems, determine their causes and consequences, develop suitable interventions to overcome them, and then evaluate the efficacy of these interventions for nutritional improvement. Students enrolled in this graduate degree program will be exposed to several disciplines in the field of nutrition science namely biostatistics, applied nutrition, recent advances in nutrition, management of programmes and projects, nutrition counselling, information technology, medical nutrition, agriculture and food science,” Benhura said.


Our country Zimbabwe is ranked 155 out of 187 countries on the 2015 Human Development Index and 85 of 104 developing countries on the 2015 Global Hunger Index. Stunting remains persistently high around 27% (ZimVAC, 2016). The country is also experiencing a double burden of malnutrition and suffering from chronic food insecurity.


However, the country has conducive policy and institutional environment for advancing food and nutrition multi-sectoral strategies as enshrined in ZIMASSET, food and nutrition security policy and the national nutrition strategy and the country’s SUN roadmap. It is among the ‘early risers’ under the scaling up nutrition (SUN) movement when it joined the SUN community in 2011.


“This nutrition context calls for senior qualified nutrition professionals (at least to postgraduate level) who will drive the Zimbabwe’s food and nutrition policy and/or agenda forward,” Benhura said.


Dr. Tonderai Matsungo, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe who is the Secretary General of the Zimbabwe Nutrition Association said the Master of Science in Nutrition program provides an excellent place for students to gain advanced knowledge in nutrition sciences.


“The programme provides opportunities for students to develop further and demonstrate knowledge and understanding in nutrition, clinical nutrition and dietetics,” Matsungo said.


He said the programme’s educational aims were to provide students with an in-depth knowledge of all key aspects of nutrition science; develop evidence-based scientific reasoning skills in problem conceptualisation, identification, definition and problem solving; develop critical thinking and maturity of judgement; 
develop skills to undertake research and prepare students for PhD studies; develop good leadership, interpersonal, teamwork and multidisciplinary scientific skills; develop ethical nutrition professionals with academic integrity as well as to develop counselling skills that can be used in the community.


There is a plethora of opportunities in this programme. Some students will become research personnel in an academic institution, research facility, food industry, or hospital; nutritionist in health institute, food service industry, health and fitness centers, food and 
nutrition-related industries, or relevant government ministries; and consultants to public and private agencies, international agencies, research projects, 
health promotion units, and food and nutrition-related industries.


Dr. Prosper Chopera, a Public Health Nutrition Specialist and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Nutrition and Family Sciences of the University of Zimbabwe said the programme provides opportunities for students to develop further and demonstrate knowledge and understanding in nutrition, clinical nutrition and diatetics.


“At the end of the degree, students should be able to express a broader and deeper understanding of nutrition science; critically evaluate the safety of food both for individuals and for specific populations; and to extrapolate the influence of food composition on human health and wellbeing,” Chopera said.


Chopera added that students should be able to identify the role of diet in disease prevention and the promotion of optimum health; demonstrate skills and knowledge to critically evaluate scientific literature related to the fields of nutrition.

The MSc in Nutrition Consultative and validation workshop was made possible through the the generous support from the World Food Programme (WFP) which was represented at the event by the Programme Policy Officer. The success of MSc in Nutrition programme will rely on  support form other sponsors in addition to WFP to spruce up laboratories and other teaching and research infrastructure at the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Family Sciences (IFNFS).