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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Postgraduate education in nutrition in south Asia: a huge mismatch between investments and needs

Shweta Khandelwal1*, Tanusree Paul1, Lawrence Haddad2, Surbhi Bhalla1, Stuart Gillespie3 and Ramanan Laxminarayan1

Author Affiliations

1 Public Health Foundation of India, 14 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110016, India

2 Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, Brighton BN1 9RH, UK

3 International Food Policy Research Institute, 2033 K St, NW, Washington DC 20006-1002, USA

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:3  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-3

Published: 7 January 2014

Abstract

Background

Despite decades of nutrition advocacy and programming, the nutrition situation in South Asian countries is alarming. We assume that modern training in nutrition at the post graduate level is an important contributor to building the capacity of individuals to think and act effectively when combating undernutrition. In this context, this paper presents a regional situation analysis of master’s level academic initiatives in nutrition with a special focus on the type of programme we think is most likely to be helpful in addressing undernutrition at the population level: Public Health Nutrition (PHN).

Methods

This situational analysis of Masters in nutrition across South Asian countries viz. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan was conducted using an intensive and systematic Internet search. Further, detailed information was extracted from the individual institute websites and library visits.

Results

Of the131 master’s degree programmes we identified one that was in PHN while another 15 had modules in PHN. Most of these universities and institutions were found in India with a few in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. In the rest of the countries, neither nutrition nor PHN emerged as an academic discipline at the master’s level. In terms of eligibility Indian and Sri Lankan programmes were most inclusive, with the remaining countries restricting eligibility to those with health qualifications. On modules, no country had any on nutrition policy or on nutrition’s interactions with agriculture, social protection, water and sanitation or women’s empowerment.

Conclusion

If a strong focus on public health nutrition is key to reducing undernutrition, then the poor availability of such courses in the region is cause for concern. Nutrition master’s courses in general focus too little on the kinds of strategies highlighted in the recent Lancet series on nutrition. Governments seeking to accelerate declines in undernutrition should incentivize the delivery of postgraduate programmes in nutrition and Public Health Nutrition (PHN) that reflect the modern consensus on priority actions. In the absence of PHN type programmes, the competence to scale up nutrition capacity is likely to be impaired and the human potential of millions of infants will continue to be squandered.

Keywords:
Public health nutrition; Higher Education; Capacity building; South Asia; Curriculum