Dietician Gina Giebner established the first Nutrition & Dietetics Service for the Health Directorate on St Helena in April 2017. It seems like a good time now to look back at what has been achieved in that time, and explore if a Dietician on the Island can benefit the health of the community.
Just like Doctors or Nurses, Dieticians must be registered with a professional body to be allowed to practice, which comes with an enforceable obligation to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism, and to provide scientifically sound, ethical and evidence-based practice. A four year degree is necessary to qualify.
On St Helena, Gina's work covers four general areas:
Weight loss and Healthy Living
Many people are aware of Gina's work to help people lose weight and improve their general health. Gina facilitates the 'Saint Slimmers' weight loss groups in Longwood and Half Tree Hollow.
Gina has also produced a popular leaflet called 'Gina's Kitchen', with healthy recipes based on what's available locally, and easy ideas to make traditional Saint meals healthier. In regular radio appearances she discusses a range of health issues.
Specialist Clinical Work
This is perhaps an area of dietetics that many people on the Island are not yet aware of, but it's actually one of the most important parts of a Dietician's work, both in the community and in the hospital.
Over the course of her first 12 months, Gina treated 328 individual people in her clinics or on home visits, of which 262 needed follow-up consultations to ensure they are supported and able to manage and improve their various health conditions.
Treatment for conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or food allergies is mostly based on dietetic intervention, and almost all patients experience improvements following the right advice.
Specialist dietetic advice is also a very important part in the treatment of a wide range of serious medical conditions such as cancers, lung problems, kidney failure, or after bowel surgery. Many patients suffering from these and other diseases can drastically improve their conditions and quality of life with the right advice on diet and medicine management.
Gina is very involved in diabetes support. 'Carbohydrate counting' is an essential skill for diabetics, which Gina has taught to many people as part of her support strategy. In pregnancy related diabetes too, the right diet advice is crucial to avoid complications.
Also, many adults and children under 16 on St Helena are overweight, but Gina also discovered that many children are underweight and suffer from anaemia. Gina works with doctors, local mums and the school nurse to improve iron intake and ensure the children are growing well, and in a healthy weight range.
Education and Training
Healthcare professionals such as Doctors, Carers, Nurses and Health Care Assistants benefit from teaching sessions on a great range of nutrition related topics, and from resources such as guidelines and patient information leaflets.
Gina also provides teaching on healthy eating and wellbeing to school teachers and students, and 'wellbeing at work' sessions in a variety of work places.
Public Health Involvement
As the Island's nutrition expert, Gina supports wider public health initiatives such as Cancer Awareness or the new 'Saints Together' campaign.
She also provided information to help government make food related policy decisions, for example updating the 'shopping basket' or advising on which foods and drinks are likely to create health problems.
It certainly has been a busy year, but, as the above shows, also a productive one.
Source: St Helena Government