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Joyce Kikafunda

Joyce Kikafunda 133x180I was born in the early fifties to a peasant family in the western part of Uganda. In those days, educating girls was not popular in Uganda, and indeed in most of Africa, but my father was visionary and put me to school. Throughout my secondary education, my dream was to become a medical doctor. However, I realised I was not comfortable handling biological fluids, and I applied for agriculture instead. I graduated with a first class honours degree in agriculture at Makerere University, the first woman to do so in Uganda. As a result, I got a scholarship for postgraduate studies in Canada and obtained an MSc in food science and nutrition. I also got married while in Canada.

We lived in Cameroon in the 1980s, and while there I realised that in Cameroon levels of childhood malnutrition were low compared with Uganda. As the West African diet is quite different from that of East Africa, I wondered whether this was the cause of the health differences. On return home, I participated in the establishment of the department of food science and technology at Makerere University, the first such unit in the country. Soon after, I went to the UK and did a PhD in human nutrition, focusing on childhood malnutrition and its causes, particularly diet. Being a sandwich programme, I was able to do the research in Uganda. I found that indeed inappropriate diet was a significant culprit, plus poor hygiene, and infections, particularly malaria. Recently, I have extended my research to school age, a period that is largely neglected world-wide.

After realising that mothers in rural areas lack the knowledge and skills for optimum child feeding and care, I have devoted a big section of my time educating them on best practices. In the early 2000s, I spearheaded the development of an MSc in applied human nutrition in our department. and this programme is producing the much needed human resource in nutrition for Uganda and the region. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing the general public and policy makers gradually appreciating the importance of nutrition to national health and development.