27 May 2015

The FANUS 2015 conference: highlights and a lowlight

I just left the FANUS conference after 3 days of presentations and discussions.

There were plenty of highlights:
Isatou Jallow at NEPAD presenting on the key role of women in nutrition-an impassioned and evidence based presentation; Martha Ayagaya the new Africa Nutrition Director at CIFF gave a great talk on governance and accountability;  Ferew Lemma and Anne Bossuyt presented carefully but passionately on the new PSNP4, designed to be more nutrition-sensitive;  Lindewe Sibanda, FANRPAN, presented ATONU, a new initiative for integrating nutrition into agriculture programmes; Prof Amadeus Kamagenge on Tanzania’s promising new safety net programme; Prof Tola Atinmo on human rights and nutrition; Prof. Joyce Kinabo on Agri-Diet, the Irish Aid funded project on agriculture and nutrition; and Suneetha Kadiyala on Agriculture Nutrition Health Academy, launched on June 3 at the LCIRAH conference.  The academy aims to establish a global network of researchers to work on agriculture and nutrition linkages and how to strengthen them.  I hope they focus on the academy bit in particular and contribute to a new generation of researchers and practitioners for who linkage comes naturally.

And the odd lowlight….
One of the large pharmaceutical companies announced the introduction of a website billed as a one stop shop for nutrition.  Very unfortunately the information given was incorrect.  Under the “0-6 month baby feeding guide” it says that breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months is “suggested” and that “if you want to bottlefeed your baby start with …”.  Well, either the company was incredibly sloppy, or deliberately misleading, or both.  Either way they need to get their printed facts right and then put in place a set of scientists that are named and widely respected to validate the accuracy of their website so that it does not become a one stop shop of misinformation and harm.  This kind of thing spills over to more responsible companies, giving them all a bad name.  They should not tolerate it and nor should we.  

Perhaps the presentation that took me most out of my comfort zone, in terms of methods and biochemistry was that by Prof Andrew Prentice on the epigenetics of embryo development.  His work in the Gambia on this has been published in Nature and widely reported on but this was the first time I had heard it in person. 
Engaging as ever, Andrew took us through the research step by step.  He and colleagues found that babies conceived of in the hungry season, when preconception nutrition status of women was worse, had more methylated DNA (how cells lock genes in the “off” position) and there is some indication that the genes involved relate to immune system development in the early embryo.  One of the implications is that pre-conception nutrition status might be even more important than previously thought.  If this all holds true with another 18 months of research to check robustness then the strong implication is that we need to find practical programmatic ways of improving adolescent nutrition status (girls, but also boys).  Andrew was careful not to frame this as a challenge to the 1000 day window from conception to 2 years old, rather talking about the importance of getting ready for 1000 days.  So what would those practical programmatic interventions be?  Good question.   

There were some really talented African researchers at the Conference.  There needed to be more external support, however, as not many external agencies and not many researchers from outside Africa attended. 

Big thanks to Joyce Kinabo, Bjorn Lundqvist and the team--and Tanzania--for being such great hosts.


Lucy Sullivan said...

Hi Lawrence, Can you please share more information about the pharma company and their nutrition website? What company it is? Links to site? Thanks

Robert Ackatia-Armah said...

Very nice Summary of this meeting Lawrence. Many interesting things to learn and a few things to refine for future meetings. Thanks also to Lawrence for making some very important contributions to the meeting.