School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Warrior for Infant and Child Nutrition Aims to Influence Policy

Nutritionist and University of Venda lecturer Dr Tshifhiwa Mandiwana is passionate about maternal and child health, so when she decided to study for a PhD her focus was on aspects that improve the nutritional status of infants and young children.

She chose UKZN because of its status as one of the top South African universities in terms of research.

Titled: The Efficacy and Related Factors of the Growth Monitoring and Promotion Programme in Clinics of Vhembe District, South Africa, her study focused on Growth Monitoring and Promotion (GMP). The primary benefits of GMP, especially in developing countries, are related to a reduction in the prevalence of being underweight, and morbidity and mortality in infants and young children (IYC) under five years old.

Mandiwana’s research asked the question:- ‘What is the GMP-related knowledge, perceptions and skills of nursing staff and mothers with IYC younger than five years old at the selected rural clinics that could serve as potential barriers to the successful implementation of GMP in the district?’

Through her research, she was able to obtain the opinions of both nurses and mothers regarding the successful implementation of the GMP programme and address the documented prevalence of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and severe acute malnutrition (SAM).

Her observation of nurses throughout the whole process of GMP gave her a better understanding of their work environment and the challenges they encounter in different areas or at particular clinics. She found that there was a need for training of nurses regarding the interpretation of growth curves, especially with the new Road-to-Health Booklet (RTHB).

Regarding mothers, she noted that they blamed factors such as ignorance and not knowing the importance of the programme being documented for not complying with the GMP schedule. However, the mothers were aware of the fact that childhood immunisations (injections) help to prevent diseases. The latter provided insight into how mothers can be motivated or encouraged to take their children to health facilities as scheduled – not only for immunisations, but also for GMP.

Mandiwana hopes that outcomes from her study will influence policy makers to take appropriate action to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition. She says her research recommendations also have the potential to have an impact on the attitude and behaviour towards GMP exhibited by mothers, nursing staff and the community at large.

Mandiwana thanked her supervisor, Professor Suna Kassier and co-supervisor, Professor Frederick Veldman, who she said encouraged and supported her throughout her research. Her parents also played a huge role in her PhD journey, especially her father. ‘He always wanted me to wear a red gown!’ she said.

Mandiwana coped with the stress of her studies through gardening and spending time with her family.

With her sights set on becoming a professor, Mandiwana is currently immersing herself in postdoctoral research as well as supervising students, while also participating in collaborative research projects.

Words: Nicole Chidzawo

Photograph: Supplied