CAREER OF THE WEEK
- Guest: McDonald Chabwera
- Firm: Malawi Epidemiology and Investigation Research Unit
Let’s face it; a good health diet is the energy to every professional. Good health habits mean a health nation. And that is a catalyst for development. Simply put, there is no way a nation can develop it its people are unhealthy.
So, which doors can one knock to seek credible dietary habits? Well, look no further as this week, our guest is one of the revered nutritionist in the country, McDonald Chabwera.
By Franco Mwachande Jnr
I am a second born in family of three boys, my siblings are Roy and Davie. Am 28 years old and married with a son Dwayne Originally, I’m from Kulemeka village in the area of Traditional Authority Kamenyagwaza in Dedza..
Brief academic background:
I did my primary school at various schools like Dedza Full Primary, Chilomoni catholic, Milonde. and Dedza Government primary school.
I did my secondary education at Mtendere secondary school. From there, I was selected to study in Environmental Health (diploma) at Malawi College of Health Sciences – Lilongwe campus. Then I joined Lilongwe University of Agriculture Natural and Natural Resources ( LUANAR) for a Bachelor of science in Human Nutrition and Food Science . Then I got a scholarship from USAID world-learning to study for a Master of science degree in Human Nutrition which I am yet to complete later this year.
So far, I have various certificates like Certificate in Human Nutrition from Global Health eLearning center, Certificate in Antenatal care – Global Health eLearning center, Certificate in Introduction to research ethics, Certificate in research ethics evaluation, Certificate in informed consent, Certificate in good clinical practices (GCP-E6(R2) from TRREE & Clinical Trials Center- University of Hong Kong.
Who is a nutritionist?
A nutritionist is a person who advises on matters of food and nutrition and their impacts on human health.
Brief job description
My job is to assess patients’and clients’health needs and diet, counsel patients and clients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits. Mostly I develop meal plans, taking both cost and clients’ preferences into account. I also evaluate the effects of meal plans and change the plans as needed.
It is also my duty to promote better nutrition by speaking to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases. But core to my work as a nutritionist is to conduct research and keep up with the latest nutritional scientific trends.
Brief professional background
Much as I have spent most of my years furthering my studies, but I have worked as an Assistant Environmental Health Officer, Private lecturing at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources–Bunda, Natural resources College and Malawi College of Health Sciences.
I would say, I do more of human nutrition research, and I have conducted several researches like; Factors leading to poor solid waste management in Lilongwe city -2010, comparison of dietary habits of disabled children at Children of Hope and Non-participants-2015, validation of Mid Upper Arm Circumference as a stand-alone tool in admission and discharge of malnourished children 6 to 59 months of age (2017), among others.
Currently I’m conducting a study on the association of diet and diabetes incidences in pre diabetics. Another study is yet to start where we shall reduce salt (sodium) intake in children and their guardians and follow them up over the years to see if they have a lower risk of developing hypertension by checking several indicators as stipulated in the study protocols. Both these research are conducted by LUANAR, College of Medicine and Glasgow University under Malawi Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit.
Was being a nutritionist your childhood career?
Yes, this is what I always wanted to become, everyday spins around food and nutrition, we need food to get energy that acts as fuel to our bodies, we need food to grow and repair worn out tissues therefore, food is key to our everyday lives. I love being in the preventive sector than the curative and most of these nutrition problems we struggle with and spend a lot of money on, are preventable. So if we put much effort on the preventive aspect of diseases and conditions we stand a better chance of having a healthy and a more productive nation.
How rewarding is this career?
Being a nutritionist just opens up the world for you. There are many opportunities from being employed by the government, NGOs and with adequate resources you can start your own consultancy and reach out to people through scientific research and lecturers. You can never go wrong with a nutrition qualification in hand.
Expected challenges with being a nutritionist?
The greatest challenge so far is what we call “The Double Burden of disease”. Many might recall that for many years Malawi has been struggling with undernutrition. Now we see a rise in over nutrition evident by the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) over the years (for example hypertension, strokes, diabetes, heart failure, liver and kidney diseases. We also have what we refer to as “Hidden Hunger” which is a term used to describe micronutrient deficiencies. Micronutrients for example, iron and iodine just to mention a few. If you do not have adequate iron in your body a condition called anemia develops. Anemia means you have less hemoglobin per milliliter of your blood. Iodine is essential for the production of thyroxine which is a hormone responsible for growth regulation. Lack of iodine presents as goiter and in extreme cases, women bare babies with cretinism.
So as a nutritionist I have to figure out ways to keep the population healthy all the time by managing what they eat and the lifestyle that is desirable for good health.
Advice to Malawians
I would advise Malawians to get nutrition advice from authentic sources than to be taken away with dietary plans that seem to work for a short period of time but have long lasting consequences. Nutrition as a field is very interesting and the best thing one can do is to keep up to date with scientific information coming in everyday to make informed decisions.
My word to young ones who would like to become nutritionists, “You might have seen from my education background that I have spent a lot of years in school trying to get to where I am and you must learn something from that, determination and perseverance. It’s never easy but we can make it!”