Establishing a postgraduate programme in nutritional epidemiology to strengthen resource capacity, academic leadership and research in the democratic republic of Congo
Mapatano Mala Ali1, Lyn Haskins2*, Vaughn John3, Anne Hatløy4,5, Silondile Luthuli2, Sphindile Mapumulo2, Ingunn M. S. Engebretsen4, Thorkild Tylleskär4, Paulin Mutombo1 and Christiane Horwood2
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Background: Low- and Middle-income countries (LMIC) face considerable health and nutrition challenges, many of which can be addressed through strong academic leadership and robust research translated into evidence-based practice. A North-South-South partnership between three universities was established to implement a master’s programme in nutritional epidemiology at the Kinshasa School of Public Health (KSPH), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The partnership aimed to develop academic leadership and research capacity in the field of nutrition in the DRC. In this article we describe the educational approach and processes used, and discuss successes, challenges, and lessons learned.
Self-administered questionnaires, which included both open and closed questions, were sent to all graduates and students on the master’s programme to explore students’ experiences and perceptions of all aspects of the educational programme. Quantitative data was analysed using frequencies, and a thematic approach was used to analyse responses to open-ended questions.
A two-year master’s programme in Nutritional Epidemiology was established in 2014, and 40 students had graduated by 2020. Key elements included using principles of authentic learning, deployment of students for an internship at a rural residential research site, and support of selected students with bursaries. Academic staff from all partner universities participated in teaching and research supervision. The curriculum and teaching approach were well received by most students, although a number of challenges were identified. Most students reported benefits from the rural internship experience but were challenged by the isolation of the rural site, and felt unsupported by their supervisors, undermining students’ experiences and potentially the quality of the research. Financial barriers were also reported as challenges by students, even among those who received bursaries.
The partnership was successful in establishing a Master Programme in Nutritional Epidemiology increasing the number of nutrition researchers in the DRC. This approach could be used in other LMIC settings to address health and nutrition challenges. Keywords: Education, LMIC, Research capacity, Partnerships, North-south-south, Nutrition, Epidemiology, DRC, Africa