A passion to improve nutrition in her home country of Benin guides Dr. Halimatou Alaofè who, recently received an International Research Scientist Development Award from the NIH, to test a culturally tailored nutrition program that would help reverse the increase in Type 2 diabetes in Benin.
Growing up in Benin, a French-speaking country in West Africa, Halimatou Alaofè, PhD, MSc, witnessed the many health needs in her country and later came to understand the potential of nutritional interventions that could make a big difference to improve health outcomes.
Dr. Alaofè, now an assistant professor in the Department of Health Promotion Sciences in the Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona, recently received an International Research Scientists Development Award (IRSDA KO1) from the Fogarty International Center (FIC) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award will help to develop and test a SmartMenu nutrition program, a culturally tailored medical nutrition therapy that combines a 4-week local food menu plan with individual counseling for Type 2 diabetes patients in Benin.
Over the past decade in Benin, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes has quadrupled from 3% to more than 12% and risen even higher in many urban areas. Consequently, many people and families are suffering from the disease's adverse health and social effects. Dr. Alaofè hopes her research can provide evidence for nutrition programs that would reverse this trend. Her program, funded by the award, will promote dietary recommendations based on locally available and accepted foods and train local nutrition counselors to promote the dietary recommendations.
"I am so pleased to receive this award and so eager to implement this program," said Dr. Alaofè, "Nutrition is linked to a wide range of diseases, and I feel this has the potential to improve the health of so many people in Benin, especially those who suffer from diabetes and related illnesses."
After finishing her bachelor's degree, she worked in a small hospital in Benin. She remembers that people she had helped would approach her and say "Thank you for saving our lives" or "Thank you for helping me."
Hearing words of gratitude from people that she had cared for always energized and motivated Dr. Alaofè. Likewise, people recognize her and often say "thank you" when she returns to the villages where she works on her nutritional programs in Benin. This appreciation reinforces that what she is doing is worthwhile.
"It motivates you to do more because you can see how happy they are and that they feel heard, which is really important. People have different goals in life, but when I finish all my work and retire, and one day return to where I worked before, people will tell me "thank you," and I'll know I accomplished something."
The International Research Scientist Development Award from FIC provides support and protected time (three to five years) to advanced postdoctoral U.S. research scientists and recently-appointed U.S. junior faculty (applicants must be at least two years beyond conferral of doctoral degree) for an intensive, mentored research career development experience in a low or middle-income country. For the project, Dr. Alaofè will be mentored by Dr. John Ehiri from the Zuckerman College of Public Health and Dr. Waliou Amoussa Hounkpatin from the University of Abomey-Calavi, Cotonou, Benin.