Dietitian’s dream come true

Neo Bodumela

A DREAM to see the Eastern Cape produce its own dietitians is finally coming true for the manager of dietetic services at the Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex, Annatjie Smith. From next year, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University will offer a four-year BSc dietetics degree – a first for the Eastern Cape.

Smith’s dream started nearly 15-years ago when she left a private practice in Pretoria to move to the Eastern Cape.

“When I moved here, I found there was poor nutritional knowledge. Since then it became my dream to bring dietetics here. There is a huge burden of malnutrition in the Eastern Cape.

“There are kids who die before the age of five and it is part of the millennium goals to lower these deaths.

“There are also many pregnant moms who die while giving birth or after and a high HIV rate in the province – not to mention the diseases of lifestyle like cancers, diabetes, strokes and renal problems. These are the people who need dietitians.”

She added there were too few dietitians working in state hospitals and clinics or community centres in the Eastern Cape. Smith emphasised that dietitians had a “big clinical role” to play beyond private practice and hospitals, where they work in intensive care units, neonatal and paediatric units and in high care.

“Dietetics is needed in many sectors. In the intensive care units, neonatal units and in high care. When it comes to changing the eating habits in the community, I believe that we can change how people think about eating properly.

“There are lots of people out there who have bad dieting or eating histories and too little people with something as simple as a food garden.

“When I got here the task seemed like a big heap but little by little we have managed to chip away at it.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work in trying to get the message across and I can say we are starting to see the resultant change. We are hopeful that we will be successful in breaking the chain of bad eating habits.

“The envisaged new degree in dietetics will teach students how to cope with people who may be difficult to convince to change their lifestyles.”

The degree will form part of the courses on offer in the NMMU faculty of health sciences and together with the department of human movement sciences, it will form part of the school of lifestyle sciences.

Director of the school Professor Rosa du Randt said the new dietetics degree took nearly two years to be approved and forms part of the expansion plan of the faculty of health sciences.

“We had to go through a series of internal and external processes before the new course was finally approved.

“We looked at the Department of Health’s human resources plan for 2030 and realised the country requires an exponential increase in graduate output rates of health professionals to meet the needs identified,” Du Randt said.

“The new course in dietetics is one of a number of new programmes the NMMU faculty of health sciences is planning to initiate in the near future.

“Students who have successfully completed the four year BSc degree in dietetics will also qualify to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. We will only be accepting about 30 students for the dietetics programme and applications are still open.”

The Port Elizabeth Hospital Complex has also agreed to have onsite clinical training facilities for the practical work placement and experiential learning for the students in the course.

For more information on the dietetics programme contact Shona Ellis at (041) 504-2497 or e-mail shona.ellis@nmmu.ac.za

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