SPRING beyond Spring- Early insights from applied field work in a global nutrition project
Manish Kumar, SPRING Strategic Information Intern, JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc. Virginia, USA
How many of you have ever experienced SPRING extending over to summer in the United States or elsewhere? I bet not many people. The spring semester at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill ended in May 2014. However, my Applied Field Experience (AFE) has brought me to the Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) project. As a SPRING Strategic Information Intern, I am based in its Virginia office. The project is managed by the JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. (JSI), with its partners; Helen Keller International, The Manoff Group, Save the Children, and the International Food Policy Research Institute.
With the deadline to achieve the millennium development goals around the corner i.e. 2015, the first of the goals that aims to reduce prevalence of underweight children by half will remain unfulfilled despite the fact that evidence-based solutions are available to fight the curse of malnutrition. The purpose of the SPRING project is to strengthen global and country efforts to scale up high-impact nutrition practices and policies and improve maternal and child nutrition outcomes. The project offers state-of-the-art technical support and focuses on the prevention of stunting and maternal and childhood anemia in the first 1,000 days. The project is working in Africa, Asia, and Eastern European countries.
Given the multidimensional nature of nutrition problems, one of the biggest challenges is how to implement evidence based nutrition actions at scale. Nutrition initiatives have been, perhaps still remain, one of the most fragmented efforts in the development sector. Those who work on the integration and interoperability of health information systems have experienced that challenges pertaining to implementation, scale-up and sustainability are much more related to institutions and people and less with the technology itself. Similar is the case in the nutrition sector, where proven solutions are available. But these solutions have mostly been implemented in a relatively isolated manner resulting in limited impact. A larger question being asked in this sector is how to define the scope of a nutrition system? What are its building blocks? With its links to agriculture, food and health systems, will it become a mega system?
An important consideration in the delivery of nutrition services is related to workforce. Unless a properly trained workforce is available in adequate numbers, ensuring delivery of nutrition services will remain a distant dream, even with technological advancements. Health system strengthening initiatives have focused on building human resources for health information systems. However, these interventions are yet to map a workforce in terms of services they deliver to the target population. In order to map a workforce with service delivery integration of health workforce and service, delivery of information systems is required.
Realizing the enormous socio-economic burden of nutritional challenges, numerous organizations across the world are making efforts to address this concern. Unfortunately, knowledge and evidence generated during the projects life cycle is difficult to access after the projects end. This may sound odd, but is true. One possible reason could be absence of strong knowledge management systems. At SPRING, the knowledge management team is working towards filling this gap through creating a system for easy access to SPRING project resources.
Though most of my work is related to the SPRING Project, I am also doing a small but significant piece of work with the MEASURE Evaluation project. The work involves reviewing available literature and preparing a comprehensive inventory of routine health information systems, mhealth and ehealth interventions implemented in both developed and developing countries.
In summary, my AFE entails activities related to nutrition systems, nutrition workforce mapping, scale-up research, knowledge management, and health information systems. My work is evolving since I began on June 2nd and is growing in scope and interest. I will have interesting and concrete things to share later on. So you may like to continue following the AFE blog posts.
I could not have asked for a better AFE opportunity. First, it has offered an avenue to build on my past experience in agriculture and health sectors. Second, it has created a platform to practice what I have learned during the past year at UNC. Third, it involves learning about global nutrition initiatives, which are pertinent to my home country, India, as well. An important aspect of my AFE is that I am working with an organization where an intern is an integral part of the organizational system. Culture and life as an intern expands beyond the boundary of project teams. I am a member of a team of talented, hardworking, young and experienced professionals, who are always willing to support and guide. Interestingly, I have colleagues who studied at Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill.
Is the AFE all about work? Not really. Exploring the neighborhoods in Virginia, Maryland and Washington DC with the family is a lot of fun. Meeting old friends and building new friendships adds to the joy and happiness of my AFE.