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Spotlight on... Dr Ritu Rana

Dr Ritu Rana (MSc Nutrition for Global Health, 2018) worked with the Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar-IIPHG (2012-2019). She is currently working as Nutrition Research Advisor for GOAL and is supporting the Management of At-risk Mothers and Infants under six months (MAMI) programme in Gambella refugee camps, Ethiopia. Here, she shares her experience of working in Nutrition in Emergencies in the context of COVID-19.
Ritu is with a colleague standing in front of a white jeep. They are both wearing face masks and socially distanced.

Cross posted from original blog on the LSHTM alumni site.

Why did you decide to study at LSHTM?

After completing my PhD in Foods and Nutrition and working in the public health sector in India, I wanted to study public health with a focus on global nutrition, particularly in a low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) context. I searched for such a master’s programme globally and could not find any programme better than the MSc Nutrition for Global Health offered by LSHTM.

Were the relationships you formed at LSHTM useful – in what way?

Yes, the relationships with both peers and teaching staff were invaluable. My peers came from all over the world; Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Italy, Tanzania, and Uganda. When you want to work in global nutrition, it is critical that you know the regional context and my peers helped me with that. For example, when I started working for Ethiopia, my African friends helped me understand the local culture and beliefs. Among the teaching staff, I am still in contact with my supervisor, Dr Marko Kerac. Actually, the mentor-mentee relationship, which started in 2017, is still ongoing. After completing my summer project, I worked (2018-2019) with Marko on a systematic review to inform ‘Research priorities to prevent, identify and manage young infants with growth failure in the first six months of life’ – this work gave me the opportunity to present our research work at WHO technical consultation in Geneva as a ‘technical advisor’. It is 2021 now and we are still working as a team on a cluster randomised controlled trial in Ethiopia.

Please summarise your achievements over the years and how your time at LSHTM complemented your career?

Before graduating from the school, I was working as an Assistant Professor at IIPHG and was teaching Public Health Nutrition to post-graduate students. The training at the school has opened many doors for me to work in global nutrition. I was on study leave when I joined the programme and after completing, I resumed my role at IIPHG to fulfil my post scholarship requirements as a ‘Lady Meherbai Fellow.’ It did not take long for me to get my first opportunity to work outside my home country. In 2020, I joined GOAL – an international humanitarian response organisation, as a Nutrition Research Advisor and became a member of the headquarter (Dublin, Ireland) based Programme Technical Team, what we call PTT. I joined GOAL around the same time (mid-March 2020) when WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. Not in my dreams did I imagine such an experience.  

How has COVID-19 affected your work?

The first work I received from my line manager, Hatty Barthorp, Global Nutrition Advisor (also NfGH graduate) was to review the MAMI programme adaptation guidelines in light of COVID-19. Yes, this is how it started – uphill struggle. Thankfully, I recollected my ‘nutrition in emergencies’ module notes and tried to apply strategic planning skills – emergency (things that should be done), priority (things that can be done), and queue (things that can wait). Unfortunately, at that time, there were no global guidelines available for managing infants under six months.

Using our earlier organisational experience and referring to global guidelines for children, we developed our own guidelines – MAMI adaptations in the context of COVID-19. We also published these guidelines on various platforms – Emergency Nutrition Network and World Nutrition journal, to make sure others who are implementing similar programmes can refer to these. To implement these adaptations, we introduced the Family-MUAC approach – a ‘reduced physical contact’ method, and trained our community health workers who, in turn trained the caregivers. The visual summary of the MAMI programme adaptations can be found here.

I also supported a global webinar on Family-MUAC with The State of Acute Malnutrition. By this time, I started feeling ‘pumped’. Currently, with support from United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), I am preparing for leading a technical support training for MAMI and Family-MUAC approach for international partners – UNICEF, World Food Program (WFP), Action Against Hunger (AAH), Concern Worldwide (CWW) International Medical Corps (IMC) in Gambella refugee camps, Ethiopia.

What do you hope to further achieve in your field in the future?

After having some experience in global nutrition, I wish to go back to my home institution, IIPHG, to share the experience and to transfer the skills to future public health leaders, the post-graduate students. I consider myself blessed to have studied at LSHTM, not many aspirants from LMICs can afford this kind of education and I am grateful to the Tata Education Trust and the DST INSPIRE Faculty scheme of Government of India which supported me.

Ritu with a group of fellow students stood outside of the John Snow pub

What advice do you have for current students?

Studying at LSHTM could be overwhelming, especially for students who come from LMICs with different education systems. I would recommend that they work hard, focus on learning and discussing with peers and not pay too much attention to grades. Time flies at LSHTM, especially after term one, so make sure you tick your bucket list items by the end of term one.

Do you have any stand out memories from LSHTM?

I have many, ranging from studying (rather pretending) in the library attic with my best buddies (Anthea and Yasir) to leaving a bit early from class to make sure you got the ‘nutritious food’ offered by Hare Krishna devotees at SOAS. I fondly remember this day, 11 May 2018, the last teaching day, when we went to the John Snow bar to celebrate – yeah, we survived an MSc at LSHTM.

 

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