Studying to fight malnutrition in children

 Edward Buzigi, 30, from Kampala in Uganda, was already a medical doctor when he arrived in Copenhagen. In that capacity, he has seen lots of malnourished children. The wish to help these children is his prime motivation to follow the MSc programme in Human Nutrition. “Infections including diarrhoea are immediate causes of severe acute malnutrition which kills a lot of children. If we could find a way to prevent and cure diarrhea, we could prevent a lot of children from becoming undernourished. My main aim is to look at the organisms which cause the diarrhoea in severely malnourished children”, Edward explains when we meet him at the SCIENCE Library.

 Edward Buzigi, studerende på human ernæring

Why have you chosen the MSc programme in Human Nutrition?

Because of my background in medicine. I have been working in Uganda as a clinician, a medical doctor, for three years. I used to see a lot of malnourished children among the patients, and I tried to imagine what the biggest problem was here: There’s the malnutrition itself, but usually we see medical complications too, because a malnourished child will have low immunity and then the infections are coming. We give medical treatment for infections, but drugs can’t cure these problems alone. The best way to manage the situation it is to look at nutrition and medicine as an integrated whole, but also devise ways of preventing the recurrence of the situation.

Why did you choose University of Copenhagen?

I also considered Wageningen University in Holland and Gent University in Belgium, but the programme here at University of Copenhagen was really fascinating and interesting and that’s why I chose to come here.

From the course outline on the Internet, I could see that they had different courses like Public Health Nutrition - where you learn and practice strategies of promoting nutrition and health, and prevent nutrition related diseases among populations - and Nutritional Physiology, where you learn about what happens when you eat or ingest food, how it is metabolised, how it is utilised and how it impacts health.

In the course outline I also noticed courses about evidence, diet and health research, whereby you can learn to judge scientific evidence in the field of nutrition. It enables you to tell how a study has been carried out, and to analyse whether it is a valid study or not: Is the evidence convincing, can I use it to generalise to the whole population?

How do you find the programme here? Are you satisfied?

Yes, I’m very satisfied, because here you can access books, here you can access the Internet all the time - which isn’t the case in Uganda - you can do your own research, the teachers are always welcoming and if there is something you haven’t understood, you can always contact them and they will advise you. They are very nice and supportive. I’m really satisfied.

Mainly the mode of teaching is quite different compared to that in Uganda. The main issue in Uganda is, that we can’t have access to the Internet everywhere. And at the university, the technology isn’t that advanced. When accessing literature it’s hard because you have to buy the books, and that’s quite expensive. But here you can easily connect to the Internet and even the library has books they can provide you through the Internet. In Uganda, obviously the teachers teach but because the literature is so limited, not only to us but also to them, it’s hard to keep up-to-date.

Now you are here on your second year. So you must be starting on your final thesis soon?

I’m starting on my thesis next month. I’m going to do my study on child malnutrition at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda, where they have a very big nutritional unit, which handles all kinds of cases of malnutrition in children. The most dangerous form of malnutrition is wasting - it kills immediately because of the loss of fat and muscles. It is affecting around 5 % of all children in Uganda. It’s a lot.

Usually malnutrition is complicated by diarrhoea. I’m going to forecast diarrhoea in malnourished - children. Diarrhoea itself kills a lot of children, but combined with malnutrition it becomes a double burden. Although health workers follow WHO guidelines for the treatment of diarrhoea and acute malnutrition, you still find that more children will die if they have both conditions. If we could find a nutritional related intervention to cure diarrhoea, we could save lives of malnourished children. My main aim is to look at the organisms which cause the diarrhoea in severely malnourished children. I’ll try to find out more about the relationship between the indicators of malnutrition and the parasites which cause the diarrhoea. This could help us to find a way forward to how we could reduce diarrhoea in malnourished children. But also there are some food-based products like probiotics you can use instead of drugs to cure diarrhoea. And we are planning to study the use of these probiotics in the same population.

A malnourished child will never achieve optimal physical and mental development for later adult life. It cannot achieve good grades in class and will never perform well in a future job. And this will cripple the development of the country. It’s a waste of human resources. So the government should invest in child nutrition as a way to gain resources.

So your agenda is to use your knowledge to expose this in Uganda and hopefully make some impact?

Yes. After finishing I’ll probably engage in nutritional programmes, but I’m thinking of using most of my time on writing articles for newspapers and nutrition and medical journals, so I can inform the community about the right nutrition.

Did you have to give up your job as clinician in Uganda to come here?

No, I was given a study leave. So I still have the job when I come back to Uganda. I’m here on a Danish government scholarship.

Do you like to stay here in Copenhagen?

The city is very interesting. You can easily get access to parks, sports facilities or playgrounds. If you are interested you can visit clubs or bars or go dancing. The transport system is very nice. I can use the same card in the busses, the train and the metro. In Kampala it’s very different. We don’t have trains or a metro. Copenhagen is a very interesting city. But it’s a bit quiet.

Quiet?

Yes, yes. Compared to Kampala it’s a bit quiet.

When you came here, did you have to look for a place to stay all by yourself or did you get any help?

When I was in Uganda, I was communicating with the Housing Department of the university. They arranged a residence for me, and they even picked me from the airport. I could have chosen a single room non-shared apartment, but I preferred a shared apartment, where we were living two persons. We had a room each and a common room where we could meet. I paid 2750 DKK a month, which is quite average. I could stay there for one year - then you have to move on to make space for newcomers. And now I’m staying for a couple of months with a relative, before I’m going back to Uganda in November to work on my thesis.

The scholarship you got from the Danish government - is it sufficient to get by?

Yes, really – even though the prices here are pretty high. I get enough monthly allowance to make me through, so I only have to spend around a third on rent.

Would you recommend going here to others?

Of course. The education is exciting, you are taught by well-known established professors who have contributed a lot to nutrition research, and you can walk alongside them doing your master thesis, because every student is attached to a professor who supervises you. And when you have finished the programme and done your thesis, it really opens up different avenues in the field of nutrition. For instance, you can go to research programme management or to clinical nutrition in hospitals, so it gives you a wide range of possibilities.

Do you find anything to criticise?

Not really. Although the medium of instruction in class is in English, outside class the medium of communication is mainly in Danish, and sometimes when you get a problem or are just going around town – well, people expect you to know Danish. Sometimes when you talk to people in English, they will become a bit reluctant. But obviously that is not a very big issue, because when you arrive here they give you an opportunity to attend Danish classes.

Did you do that?

No, but I guess I should have. I went there for two weeks, but then I had to go back to do research in Uganda, and I couldn’t go back to the class afterwards. Danish is not an easy language, so you have to concentrate on it, and it was a bit complicated to concentrate on both studying Human Nutrition and learning Danish. It’s an opportunity for master student who wants to remain in Denmark and apply for a green card when they have finished their programmes. But that’s not my plan.