Nutritional Intervention Research Unit
Director: Prof M A (Ali) Dhansay
The Nutritional Intervention Research Unit is an intramural research Unit of the Medical Research Council (MRC). The Unit was established in Pretoria and moved to Cape Town in June 1974. In the 1980s the main research focus was to study the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but the research focus changed in the 1990s to focus on micronutrient malnutrition and public health nutrition. Fatty acid research and the compilation of a database that contains the nutrient composition of foods consumed in South Africa continued to be research focus areas. NIRU also has an analytical laboratory with the relevant capacity to support the research done in the Unit.
Vision of NIRU
Building a healthy nation through nutritional research
Mission of NIRU
To improve the nutritional imbalances in vulnerable groups in the South African population through relevant nutritional research
Legislative and other mandates
The mandate for nutritional research and the production of related nutritional research items are vested in the basic right of all people of South Africa to have sufficient and nutritious food available as explicitly defined in the following points of the Constitutional Bill of Rights:
27(b) Health care, food, water and social security. Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food and water;
28 (c) Children. Every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services.
The mandate of NIRU is aligned with that of the MRC which clearly calls for research, development and technology transfer, which if translated into nutritional terms, represents the core research business of NIRU.
The MRC Act (Act 58 of 1991), Section 3, states that the Legislative Mandate of the MRC is:
‘through research, development and technology transfer, to promote the improvement of the health and quality of life of the population of the Republic, and to perform such functions as may be assigned to the MRC by or under this Act’.
Furthermore, a significant volume of the research at NIRU supports the implementation of the specifications stipulated in the Regulations of the Foodstuffs, Disinfectants and Cosmetics Act 54 of 1972. In fact, NIRU scientists have repeatedly been instrumental in revising and strengthening the Regulations of this Act in association with the relevant Directorates of the National Department of Health.
NIRU is a leader in nutritional research in South Africa and, in many respects, also in Africa and recognised internationally for its high quality research and developmental contributions to improve the nutritional status of all people in South Africa and in particular that of nutritionally vulnerable groups.
An integrated nutrition strategy for South Africa was formulated and adopted by the Department of Health's White Paper for the transformation of the health system in South Africa and subsequently developed into the Integrated Nutrition Program (INP) for South Africa. NIRU’s nutritional research and related activities are well aligned with the range of policy documents by the Department of Health flowing from the INP since 1994.
Strategic outcome oriented goals of the unit
NIRU has three strategic oriented goals:
- Conduct nutritional studies and produce scientific outputs aligned with national and international priorities in order to improve the nutritional status of the population
NIRU, as a leading nutrition research unit, initiates and conducts high quality research studies covering a wide and relevant range of nutritional topics to generate new evidence in order to identify and research solutions related to nutritional problems in the country.
- Generate nutrient information and compile a comprehensive food database, and develop and produce relevant products for use in the governmental, scientific, academic and industrial communities
NIRU is the custodian of the South African food composition database and thus manage, maintain and grow the database and develop summary tables and software programmes based on the information for national and international use.
- Translate scientific nutritional data and food database outputs into practical implementable strategies and policies nationally and internationally
NIRU scientists play a pivotal role in translating the scientific information and products into national and international policies and practices.