School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Dr Jane Akob and Dr Christopher Apana Akob congratulate the new doctor in the house, daughter Dr Faith Akob.

Knowledge of Nutrition in Cameroon Expanded

Dr Faith Akob focused her PhD in Human Nutrition on filling a gap in nutrition knowledge in Cameroon by improving understanding of nutritional patterns, nutritional status and areas in need of intervention.

Akob also hoped to provide insights into the dietary needs and challenges of adults and children in the country’s north-west region.

Akob planned to contribute towards reducing malnutrition in an area beset by political instability and social and economic shifts. Cameroon is undergoing a nutrition transition, with consumption of processed, sugary and fatty foods rising with growing urbanisation and globalisation.

‘I am particularly interested to see how diet affects Cameroonians’ health and nutritional status and hope to contribute to developing culturally sensitive and effective nutrition interventions that address specific health challenges faced by communities in Cameroon,’ said Akob.

Focusing on the anthropometric status, dietary intake and dietary diversity of adults and children in the north-west region of Cameroon, Akob found the prevalence of overweight and obesity to be higher among study subjects in her urban study areas than in rural districts. Despite the region boasting a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, diets in its metropolitan areas were high in refined carbohydrates, fats and oils and low in dairy, fruit and vegetables.

Poor dietary diversity was linked to wastage among children between the ages of one and three, which is a serious public health problem. Adults in the study were either of average weight, overweight or obese, indicating a need to promote dietary diversity to encourage the increased intake of selected food items.

Akob recommended that nutrition education in Cameroon be supported and promoted to combat malnutrition and the more overlooked issue of overnutrition.

Pursuing a PhD was not part of Akob’s initial career plan after she completed her undergraduate and master’s studies at UKZN. However, her parents, Dr Christopher Apana Akob, the Vice-Chancellor of Cameroon’s National Polytechnic University Institute, and Dr Jane Akob, an independent development consultant, encouraged Akob and her sisters, Joan and Elma, to take their studies as far as possible.

Eager to put the knowledge she gained in South Africa and the United States to work in her home country, Akob established a nutrition and wellness centre in Bamenda, partnered with the regional hospital, taught part-time at the state university, and completed an internship with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), always focusing on nutrition education and counselling.

Akob started PhD studies some years ago after completing an 11-month internship with Heifer International in the United States of America.

Akob dedicated her thesis to her parents and recalled her father calling her “Prof” during her master’s study, inspiring his daughter to consider whether this title could be hers. She achieved two publications from her thesis and saw herself becoming a professor in the future. Following the example of her parents, who have worked with international organisations, including Heifer International, Akob also hopes to work with an international organisation.

She chose to enrol in her PhD studies at UKZN thanks to her experience with the Discipline of Dietetics and Human Nutrition and its excellent resources, experienced staff and vibrant academic community. She was supervised by Professor Kirthee Pillay, Dr Nicola Wiles and Professor Muthulisi Siwela.

The start of her PhD studies came at a challenging time. Akob was a newlywed living in Bamenda when the Anglophone Crisis broke out. She gave birth to her first child during this turbulent civil unrest, which caused significant stress as she worried about her family’s safety. In the third year of her studies, with a second baby on the way, she took up her first full-time position as a nutrition lecturer at the Catholic University of Cameroon. Surviving a life-threatening case of eclampsia, Akob looked back at balancing her studies with motherhood, full-time work, entrepreneurship, and a political crisis as a triumph.

‘If I could go through all of these and still get a doctorate, then any woman can,’ said Akob. ‘It is a challenge for all women to rise above their fears, rise above challenges and achieve!’

She aspires to build a career involving research, advocating for evidence-based policies, and designing and implementing programmes that promote better health outcomes through nutrition in Cameroon and beyond.

Akob thanked God for strengthening her to carry out her research, UKZN for fee remission support, and Pillay, Wiles and Siwela for their excellent supervision, encouragement, and support.

She thanked her parents and sister, Elma, for their financial, emotional, and familial support; her sister, Dr Joan Akob for her encouragement and love and credited her husband, Barrister Ozimba Bertrand Anengwang, for his love, support and encouragement during challenging times and for ensuring her success.

Words: Christine Cuenod

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini