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Olivia Yambi

Olivia Yambi 130x180When I completed my first degree in biological sciences and was assigned to teach at a fisheries research and training institute I came across a book Human Nutrition in Tropical Africa, by Michael Latham. Upon reading this book carefully I had no doubt that I wanted to work on human nutrition rather than continue research on the biology of king fish

The calling grew stronger as I visited clinics around the country and saw children suffering from malnutrition. I realised that I needed an institutional base from which to pursue work in nutrition and by then Tanzania had established a new institution to deal with policy and programmes in nutrition. Glad was I when I was accepted for a job even without a formal degree in nutrition. The government provided opportunities for training in nutrition as part of as major technical capacity development initiative. From work on assessment of nutrition status, to engagement in development of the first national nutrition policy in Tanzania, I went on to do research on the relationship between nutrition status and the risk of death in children under the age of 3 years. I could only do this research as part of an intervention programme – the Iringa nutrition programme and as part of my doctoral programme at Cornell University.

Research was only a small part of my work in nutrition. I have spent most of my professional life making direct contributions to nutrition programme implementation. In India, I instrumentally contributed to its government’s acceptance to focus interventions on children under 3 years of age in the multi-million dollar Integrated Child Development Project. The strategy included bringing together two streams of extension workers – the Anganwadi worker, and the auxillary nurse midwife as key points of contact for the mother-child dyad. Five years on, I started working as regional nutrition advisor for UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Region. This was a particularly challenging period as the region was highly affected by HIV and AIDS, and work on infant feeding options in the context of HIV and AIDS was very much in the pilot phase. Much advocacy was pursued with governments of the region, and technical support provided to develop and implement guidelines for infant feeding in the context of HIV and AIDS. I learnt nutrition programming in emergencies as I supported implementation. The new variant famine that affected Southern Africa around 2002 was a major challenge. I I kept an undivided focus in nutrition even as I assumed responsibility as head of the UNICEF offices in Laos and in Kenya. Now I am back in Tanzania, I will cease the opportunity to support further refinement of policy, strategies and programme implementation and evaluation in my home country, which is where I started. The task is far from finished. I also intend to keep on networking for application of what works, taking into account the specific contexts.