Work done by different A4NH research flagships can synergistically come together and open opportunities for experience sharing across countries. Nigeria is one of five A4NH focus countries, along with Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, and Vietnam. Ethiopia and Nigeria together make up more than 30 percent of Africa's one billion people, so the focus on these two African countries is indeed warranted. Both have large numbers of academic institutions that could better contribute to evidence generation towards accelerating progress on nutrition. But research capacity is limited.
A4NH's research flagship on Supporting Policies, Programs, and Enabling Action through Research (SPEAR) leads the Transform Nutrition West Africa project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project focuses on the West Africa region, but with particular focus on Nigeria, as well as Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Ghana. In addition, Nigeria is also a focus country for A4NH's Food Systems for Healthier Diets (FSHD) research flagship.
Linking Efforts of the Two Flagships at the Nutrition Society for Nigeria Annual Conference, for Research Capacity Strengthening
TNWA organized two sessions at the Nutrition Society for Nigeria's annual conference, in Abuja in September 2019. Dr. Olutayo Adeyemi, who leads the data collection for TNWA's Stories of Change project in Nigeria, made two plenary presentations, followed by discussions specifically targeting research capacity strengthening. The emphasis was on the landscape of nutrition research in Nigeria on World Health Assembly (WHA) targets, and on research methods that can support and accelerate progress on nutrition in Nigeria.
Current Nigerian Research on WHA Targets is Biases Towards Describing Nutritional Problems, with Little Attention to Finding Solutions.
To date, Nigeria has made limited progress towards achieving the WHA targets. Dr. Adeyemi shared the results of a study done by TNWA that mapped the number and type of research that had been done in relation to WHA indicators in Nigeria. Compared to other West African countries, large numbers of studies had been done in Nigeria in relation to the WHA nutrition indicators, however, many of them were biased towards describing nutritional problems and little work had been done in relation to finding solutions to the problems faced.
Key points made during the discussion were that "the academic community needs to focus on these research gaps in the future, rather than on what would advance their career within the Nigerian university system" and "efforts need to be made to index Nigerian journals; the Nigerian Journal of Nutrition Sciences is now officially indexed in Scopus."
Both Nigeria and Ethiopia Need to Strengthen Capacity for Different Types of Research Methods to Contribute to Accelerating Progress
In Ethiopia the two flagships have worked together on a research capacity strengthening project targeting MSc students and their supervisors at Ethiopian academic institutions. A condensed training package on qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research approaches developed from a food systems perspective was adapted to the Nigerian context and presented at the conference. Dr. Adeyemi described why the three research approaches are equally important to inform progress on nutrition. It was emphasized that, in order to answer 'why' and 'how' questions in relation to challenges experienced with different aspects of program implementation, qualitative and mixed methods research questions are critical. TNWA's Stories of Change work in Nigeria and elsewhere, including Ethiopia, as well as Senegal, Zambia, Bangladesh, and Nepal, were used to illustrate that different types of research are needed. There was robust discussion on how Nigerian researchers could better engage in these types of research, reaching the following conclusions:
- a revision of the curriculum on nutrition research methods agreed by the various universities would be a useful way to move forward;
- opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations among academia and with the program community should be identified; and, most importantly,
- capacity to perform these various types of research needs to be strengthened.
Bringing together efforts of the flagships in this manner was synergistic and opened opportunities for sharing between the two countries.
The Nutrition Society of Nigeria Plans to Strengthen Research Capacity
As Nigeria and Ethiopia's nutrition policy environments have become richer, there is increasing need to leverage research for lesson learning to accelerate progress. Across the two plenary discussion at the conference, the need to strengthen capacity of Nigerian nutrition researchers to generate the needed evidence to inform decisions that could lead to improved nutrition program implementation emerged. Important steps identified by the audience included:
- Agree on the critical research questions that need to be answered to address malnutrition in Nigeria;
- Build and strengthen capacity to identify appropriate research methods to answer different types of research questions and conduct high-quality research;
- Form research consortiums;
- Engage nutrition policy and program decision makers in the research process; and
- Advocate to ensure research findings are integrated into nutrition planning and implementation.
In Ethiopia, a research agenda for food systems for healthier diets was set through a national consultation process and the MSc student grant project has awarded two sets of grants to enable students to conduct food systems-related research responding to the identified research agenda.
At the conference, the Nutrition Society of Nigeria launched a new project to enhance research capacity of Nigerian nutrition researchers. This project, called Engage Nutrition Academia in Nigeria (ENAN), is a three-year project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and has the overall objective of strengthening the mechanisms of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria to engage academia around the nutrition agenda in Nigeria. The leadership of the Nutrition Society remarked that the conference sessions referred to above highlighted the need for the Society to possibly include capacity strengthening on research methods under the ENAN project.
A version of this post originally appeared on the Transform Nutrition West Africa website.
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