Seminar Sparks Collaboration and innovation in Nutrition Research

Seminar Sparks Collaboration and innovation in Nutrition Research

Addis Ababa, December 15, 2023 – NIPN-Ethiopia conducted a one-day seminar on 15 December on two pertinent issues: the Method for Nutritional and Statistical Analysis of Diets and Southeast Asia Regional Research Capacity Building in Nutrition. The aim of the seminar was to discuss advancements and challenges in the field of nutrition and promote collaboration and knowledge sharing among participants.

The seminar, which took place at the National Training Center at EPHI, was given by two prominent scholars from the Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University (INMU). INMU is an initiative developed by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) to foster innovation, multidisciplinary approaches, and collaborative research within the Southeast Asian region.

The seminar brought together 36 EPHI senior leaders, researchers, nutritionists, data analysts, and university lecturers, including seven women, creating a diverse group of participants.

Dr. Aregash, a Senior Researcher at EPHI and the Coordinator of NIPN Ethiopia, extended a warm welcome to both the presenters and participants, emphasizing the active role of NIPN in generating evidence to inform policymakers' decisions. In addition, she highlighted that the NIPN initiative, sponsored by the European Union, is currently being implemented in nine African countries. Among the nine countries, the project is supported in three countries by the GIZ.

The event's moderator, Dr. Endale Amare, Senior Researcher at EPHI and Coordinator of the Periodic Table of Food Initiative (PTFI), introduced the distinguished scholars: Dr. Warangkana Srichamnong, Associate Professor and Deputy Director for Collaboration Networks and Academic Services at INMU, and Dr. Sabri Bromage, a researcher at INMU and a member of the Mahidol University Global Talent Program. After the introduction, Dr. Sabri was invited to discuss his paper and share his research insights.

Starting his presentation on Methods for Nutritional and Statistical Analysis of Diets in Surveillance and Epidemiology, Dr. Sabri spoke about the importance of clinical and laboratory analysis in studying nutrition. He highlighted key indicators such as low birth weight, underweight, wasting, stunting, and delayed growth, which can be assessed through functional and biochemical measures to comprehensively evaluate undernutrition and nutrient deficiencies.

Dr. Sabri addressed over-nutrition, explaining that it arises from excessive food or nutrient intake and results in health issues such as overweight, adiposity, hypertension, metabolic imbalances, and nutrient toxicity. He talked about the significance of a balanced approach to nutrition, highlighting the need to acknowledge the health risks of undernutrition and over-nutrition, and emphasizing the value of statistical analysis in comprehending the complexities of diets and their effects on human health.

Dr. Sabri covered essential aspects of nutritional epidemiology, presenting global data on dietary imbalances and their health implications. He discussed food consumption sources, reference data, and various methods of dietary assessment. Additionally, he addressed challenges in analyzing population dietary data and defining diet quality metrics.

The next presenter, Dr. Warangkana Srichamnong, highlighted the involvement of INMU and Mahidol University in ASEAN initiatives related to education and public health. She discussed various activities conducted by INMU in the areas of public health nutrition, food product development, consultation and analytical services, community engagement, and community nutrition.

Dr. Warangkana also emphasized the significance of academic and research collaborations with international universities and research programs, underscoring the importance of ASEAN unity in fostering such collaborations.

At the conclusion of the two insightful presentations, Dr. Endale invited three esteemed panelists: Dr. Masresha Tesema, the Director of the Food Science and Nutrition Research Directorate (FSNRD) of EPHI; Dr. Ramadhani Abdallah Noor, Nutritionist Manager with UNICEF Ethiopia; and Dr. Tadesse Zerfu, Research Fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), to take their seats.

Dr. Masresha highlighted the various areas of potential collaboration between EPHI and Mahidol University. He elaborated on the ongoing efforts made over the past 30 years to strengthen research endeavors and expressed a strong desire to learn from the SEARUN initiative under SEAMEO, which aims to enhance research and innovation capabilities in Southeast Asia. SEARUN’s main goal is to foster collaboration among member universities to address common regional challenges and promote sustainable development. It seeks to enhance research capacities, facilitate knowledge sharing, and develop human resources in Southeast Asia. Dr. Masresha emphasized EPHI's potential role in facilitating collaboration as a coordinator and mentioned its membership with various sister organizations, including the International Public Health Institutes.

Dr. Ramadhani Abdallah Noor stressed the importance of collaboration, including engagement with the private sector. Dr. Tadesse Zerfu, in turn, emphasized the significance of knowledge transfer, asserting that information alone is insufficient unless it reaches a wider community.

The remarks by the panelists were followed by a question and answer session. In response to a question about the availabilities of technologies at EPHI and Addis Ababa University (AAU) for analyzing bioactive components, specifically active metabolites, Dr. Masresh mentioned that obtaining analysis reagents is challenging in Ethiopia, but efforts are being made to procure these reagents through a special procurement process. The Partnership for Transforming Health Systems II (PTHS II) is working on analyzing active components in indigenous foods.

Another question was raised about having a unified Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG) for South Asian countries. It was acknowledged that diets in these countries are similar, but each country has its own specific Food Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG) to cater to its needs. However, there are general guidelines that address common dietary requirements across these countries.

The availability of scholarship opportunities for African students and collaboration with Southeast Asian organizations were discussed. Mahidol University offers scholarships for MSc and Ph.D. education, benefiting two African students. While collaboration with Southeast Asian organizations may have shipping challenges, following official procedures can help overcome these hurdles.

Regarding collaboration with global public health institutes, the speakers confirmed that Mahidol University collaborates with regional public health institutes, focusing on the One Health concept.

A participant asked for advice on establishing a regional hub within the Southeast Asian network. The importance of a bottom-up approach was emphasized, where the regional institute recognizes the significance of the network. It was suggested to grow the network organically, with clear timelines and goals from the outset.

Addressing conflicts among collaborators, it was advised to clarify the mission and vision at the beginning to address such issues. During the COVID-19 pandemic, alternative communication channels like Zoom were utilized to ensure continued collaboration.

Finally, Dr. Sabri provided answers to questions dealing with the GDQS app, emphasizing its applicability in Ethiopia, the benefits of quantitative intake data, methods for managing low outliers, the importance of considering country-specific factors in global metrics, and the potential need for adjusting reference ranges for local populations.

It is believed that the event provided a valuable platform for collaboration and knowledge sharing, contributing to the development of stronger research capabilities among those in attendance.