Northern Mozambique is one part of the world where chronic malnutrition is a serious problem. The main causes of malnutrition among the population are poverty, the lack of sufficient and variable nutrients, and infectious diseases. Almost half of all children under the age of five suffer from stunted growth, which means they are clearly shorter than their well-nourished peers.
This October, University of Helsinki nutrition science teachers shared their expertise with master’s students at Lúrio University in northern Mozambique in a course assessing the nutritional status of the population and planning measures to reduce malnutrition.
“The Lúrio University students taking the course mostly came from the area in question and were genuinely keen to help solve their community’s malnutrition problem,” explains University Lecturer Liisa Korkalo of the Department of Food and Nutrition at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.
The course is part of a collaborative project between the universities of Helsinki, Lúrio and Eduardo Mondlane, developing the conditions for higher education in food and nutrition science at universities in Mozambique. The project is funded by the Team Finland Knowledge programme of the Finnish National Agency for Education and headed by Liisa Korkalo of the University of Helsinki.
“Our aim is to enhance methodological skills, not just in theory, but also in practice,” says University Lecturer Noora Kanerva.
Accordingly, the course provided students with both theoretical teaching and practical exercises in measuring body size and conducting food consumption interviews. On a day devoted to fieldwork, the students measured and interviewed residents in one of the districts of Nampula.
“Concrete training increased the students’ confidence, which will support their future thesis work and employment,” states Senior University Lecturer Riitta Freese.
The students also considered differences in measurements taken as part of day-to-day clinical work at health centres and those done for scholarly research. The latter poses more stringent requirements for uniform methods and accuracy.
In addition, the students practised the processing of data obtained from a nutrition analysis program.
“As scarce financial resources often prevent the use of licenced software in Mozambique, it was important to teach students how to use free software,” notes Korkalo.
“The students found it very useful, and many took the opportunity for additional practice on the day after the course,” she adds. One of the students was Lidia Andarusse, who says she intends to use the software as part of her thesis work. For his part, Professor Almeida Machamba states that the software will also be used in teaching in the master’s programme.
At the end of the course, Professor Mikael Fogelholm supervised the students in designing and assessing a community intervention, using a problem-based teaching model.
“Our goal was that this last day would link the previous days’ lessons with a wider context. The students’ enthusiastic participation in group discussions strongly suggests that we achieved this goal,” Fogelholm says.
Education collaboration between the universities of Helsinki, Lúrio and Eduardo Mondlane will continue, with a similar course set to be organised at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo in 2024. Moreover, two students from Mozambique will arrive in Helsinki to conduct laboratory analyses for their theses.