Meet Our Corresponding Members: Dr. Zipporah N. Bukania
Where are you from?
The Centre for Public Health Research, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kenya.
Tell us about your work in general and about the survey you contributed to GDD.
Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is a national semi-autonomous government body whose mandate is to carry out research in human health. KEMRI has 11 research Centres in various geographical regions of the country, each with a specific research focus. I am a research scientist and Director at the Centre for Public Health Research, whose mandate is to conduct multidisciplinary research in nutrition, epidemiology, environmental and occupational health, population and behavioral sciences, and health systems and policy research.
Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR) often conducts research activities in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, including participating in formulating national nutrition programmes and policies including dietary-related guidelines and policies.
In addition, CPHR scientists undertake other independent research studies that often have a dietary-related focus. We have participated in the development of national dietary documents including the current national food consumption tables. In 2011, on behalf of the Ministry of Health, KEMRI conducted the Kenya National Micronutrient Survey (KNMS 2011), which for the first time, included nationally-representative dietary consumption data, which we have contributed to the GDD.
During KNMS survey, I was the national coordinator of the dietary data survey component responsible for conducting trainings and supervising data collection, data entry, and analysis. At a personal level, I focus on research on micronutrients and non-communicable diseases as well as food consumption studies, lately developing an interest in processed foods and how data on processed foods can be included in the national surveys.
How did you become interested in the field of nutrition?
When I applied to join undergraduate studies, I was interested in undertaking studies in business management despite having had a lot of interest in cookery, mainly because the university of choice did not offer catering. However, immediately after my interview, I was asked why I did not choose foods and nutrition despite having performed very well in home economics in high school. At that point, I was given an opportunity to change my choice to foods and nutrition. My interest in nutrition was strengthened when I got my first job as a nutritionist in a hospital, and since then, I have never looked back.
What is one of the biggest nutritional challenges facing your country today?
Kenya is a fast-developing country and currently is faced with the triple burden of disease: infectious diseases, micronutrient deficiencies, and non-communicable diseases—mainly obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Poor dietary practices have been identified as some of the contributing factors, and targeted policies and interventions are urgently needed to address these challenges.
How do you see GDD factoring into your research in the future?
Participating in GDD is important, not only for me to learn skills in the management of global dietary databases, but also for Kenya to be on the global map. Since Kenya plans to undertake a national food consumption survey in the near future, this process has built capacity. It will also allow us to compare to other countries and likely create opportunities for further collaborations in the area of dietary data activities with findings and evidence to inform policy changes.
What directions or results do you hope to see in the field of global nutrition research in the future?
I look forward to a future where governments will give nutrition its rightful position in the government sectors, with increased funding for nutrition-related activities, including allocating reasonably adequate funding for nutrition research studies to generate evidence for programming and policy formulation. I also look forward to a future where human resources for nutrition is given a fair share of the job market by national governments. And importantly, strong nutrition policies are needed to safeguard the populations from the trappings of nutrition challenges, especially the effects of malnutrition in children which negates their normal growth and becomes a health burden to the health systems.
Thank you to Dr. Zipporah Bukania for contributing to this quarter's Meet Our Corresponding Members section.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.