The experience of Vittoria and Daniela, students of Food and Human Nutrition Sciences

10 February 2017 - Daniela dreamed of Africa since she was a child. For this reason, when the Endocrinology teacher Nicola Napoli, at the beginning of the second year of the Master's Degree Course in Food Sciences and Human Nutrition, proposed a thesis experience on this continent, he couldn't say no. But she didn't take the plane alone: ​​Vittoria, who shared her desire and course of studies, also boarded it, thanks to the support of Giovanni Mottini, project manager of International cooperation UCBM. Destination, Tanzaniawhere daniela Mucci and Vittoria Russo remained one month, last summer. Goal, ainutritional survey in HIV-positive patients on antiretroviral therapy and an assessment of alterations in glucose metabolism (Victory) and the lipid profile (Daniela).

"In the first phase - says Vittoria - we carried out a nutritional survey to evaluate the traditional eating habits and patterns of the local population. For this we administered very simple questionnaires who investigated health conditions, work, family, food preservation, cooking, eating habits... We observed how much the consumption of foods rich in sugars is decidedly frequent, while that of meat, fish, eggs and milk is rare. Furthermore, paradoxically, the population eats little fruit, despite the fact that the territory is rich in it: it is all destined for export".

In the second phase of the research, the female students instead directly assessed the state of health of the patients. Daniela explains: "We gave patients a report with the investigations we had carried out: weight, height, circumference, blood pressure, blood sugar, glycated hemoglobin, total cholesterol, HDL and LDL". 

The two students wrote their thesis at the St. Gaspar Referral and Teaching Hospital, founded and still managed by the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood a Itigi, a rural town that is perfectly located in the center of Tanzania, at about 1.300 meters above sea level, in an undeveloped area, surrounded by numerous rural villages. 

"Being in the field - explains Vittoria - you learn a lot. We gave patients nutritional advice, starting with the foods we were sure they had available, from what they grew. And our help in some cases could be fundamental: some of them didn't even know the most suitable cooking methods".

"The impact with the patients - recalls Daniela - was initially strong. What amazed me most, however, was how each of them placed themselves at our disposal. Over time, I began to look the patients in the eye, I got used to their way of speaking and to relate to us; everyone is always so helpful and collaborative. At one point I felt so integrated that I started using some of their mannerisms: for example, counting like them and using terms in their lingua local".

Daniela concludes: "What made me happy was making myself useful every day, even in the smallest things. Now my desire is to go back there to bring what they need, and maybe even find a way to make myself useful through my work". Vittoria adds: "I graduated in October, now I would like to work in the field of international cooperation. Back home, I changed all my perspectives: before the trip I thought I would then work in the clinical field, perhaps opening a practice. Of course, this still interests me, but the experience has also opened up another world for me."