African Journal of Food Agriculture Nutrition and Development, Vol. 9, No. 6, Sept, 2009, pp.
The 19th International Congress of Nutrition (ICN)
Hon. Prof. Ruth K. Oniang'o, PhD,
Founder, Rural Outreach Program (ROP) www.ropkenya.org AND Editor-in-Chief, African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND)
Code Number: nd09062
Source: ICN Website
The 19th International Congress of Nutrition (ICN) will be held in Bangkok from 4th to 9th 2009 for the first time on the Asian continent. Four years ago it was held in Durban, South Africa for the first time on the African continent. The ICN has broken records since its inaugural meeting in Basel in 1952 with only 18 countries attending. Vienna in 2001 broke the record of number of countries attending (113). Vienna also brought the largest number of African participants and in fact had special focus on Africa. Again Vienna broke the record in terms of number of scientists attending (3550). My first attendance was San Diego USA in 1981, when I got a partial scholarship as a PhD student for a poster presentation. Since then, I missed two in a row: Seoul and Adelaide, for personal reasons.
The question is: why does it matter to attend the ICN every four years? What does one get out of it?
What have I got out of it? The ICN has become one of the most important gatherings in the world today. For a subject as elusive as Nutrition, it is amazing that so many professionals from various backgrounds give it so much importance. It has been and continues to be a great professional journey for me.
Despite the huge crowds of extremely well trained professionals doing very important work in their areas of work, NUTRITION in many of our countries, mine(KENYA) included, continues to have a low profile. I still have not figured out what the problem is and have in fact stopped worrying about it.
Malaria gets money for research to find either a vaccine or a cure, HIV/AIDS the same, Tuberculosis the same and yet getting funding to provide children with good food to keep them healthy has not been that easy. When children are dying, it is an emergency and then everyone starts running to save them when it is probably too late. Why do we see malnutrition in children? The same way numbers of professionals attending the ICN have been increasing, the number of children suffering from severe and preventable malnutrition has likewise gone up. The increasing number of children who continue to die needlessly is worrying. In Kenya I was always part of the Child nutritional status assessments of 1979, 1982, 1983 which we knew represented the health of the nation; it appeared to be improving at the time. Now we cannot even say that anymore. Kenya has moved from being a food - sufficient country to a food deficit nation, almost importing more than it produces and with more than 25 % of the population not knowing where their next meal is going to come from. Climate change has caught up with us, completely disorganizing our farmers until they do not know what to expect in any one year. Global financial wars have hit the population badly, more than 80% of whom still live in rural areas. In addition to the ICN, I also attended the FAO organized ICN of 1992 and the World Food Summit of 1996. I helped to prepare Kenya country papers, which were hailed as being amongst the best. But, there needs to be more than just nice-sounding country papers.
Another thing, did we as African professionals get what we expected from the last gathering of the ICN which was held on our continent in 2005? All I know is that we continue to struggle. We continue to struggle to make the case for nutrition and we continue to struggle to improve the nutritional health of our people, of our children.
Networking is probably the single most important outcome of all these meetings. Over the years, I have become a part of an international family and continue to connect with those who have become what I would refer to as my international siblings. Many of them helped me to get this journal started. I owe them a lot.
Those connections are crucial to professional growth. I always encourage young scholars to establish strong professional links and networks. That is what makes attending these huge 4- yearly gatherings worthwhile. One learns a lot and is able to keep up with what is happening within the science of Nutrition and in other parts of the world, and to meet physically people one has heard of or quoted in their thesis or other writings.
I am happy to be a part of the 19th International Congress of Nutrition in Bangkok, Thailand, hosted by some of the warmest people in the world, the Thai. I know we are all going to enjoy it, and more importantly to learn a lot that we can take back to energise our work and save more children.
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