Child Nutrition: Why Nigeria must not rank lowest in Africa

Supreme Desk
8 July 2024 2:25 PM GMT
Child Nutrition: Why Nigeria must not rank lowest in Africa
Analysts are very worried about the poor ranking of Nigeria on nutrition.

Nigeria ranking No. 1 in Africa and No. 2 in the world in terms of the number of malnourished children can be very disturbing.

According to data released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria, with an estimated population of 216 million, is projected to have 31 million people facing food insecurity by August 2024 if urgent actions are not taken.

The data also shows that around 34 million of Nigeria’s population are under five years old, with 14 million under two years old.

The country is also estimated to have eight million births per year.

Analysts are very worried about the poor ranking of Nigeria on nutrition.

They are particularly worried that about nine million Nigerian children under five years of age will suffer moderate and severe malnutrition if urgent action is not taken in 2024.

Childhood nutrition refers to the dietary needs of healthy children, aged two years through 11 years of age.

A sound eating routine helps youngsters develop and learn. Adequate nutrition helps to forestall obesity and weight-related infections.

The Federal Government has expressed commitment to food and nutrition security through various policies and programmes.

It desires a multi-stakeholder approach to combating malnutrition with the conviction that improved nutrition is crucial for national development and economic growth.

According to Sen. Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia, Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bola Tinubu, there is a need for collaborative efforts involving governments, religious institutions, traditional authorities, and development partners to boost nutrition.

The official says the Federal Government is committed to boosting nutrition as it directly impacts human capital development, economic productivity, and the nation’s overall trajectory.

The Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Atiku Bagudu, emphasises that food and nutrition security are part of the Renewed Hope Agenda of the Tinubu administration.

Bagudu gives assurance that the administration is committed to a multi-faceted approach to food security that will ensure sustainable agriculture practices, climate-smart technologies, and social protection programmes.

While acknowledging the efforts of the Federal Government, analysts, however, urge more and urgent attention on child nutrition to save children under five years from malnutrition and its consequences.

An Assistant Director of Nursing Services at the Maternal and Child Health Centre, Amuwo Odofin, Lagos State, Mrs. Catherine Obakhedo, says the statistics on child nutrition in Nigeria are scary and need urgent action.

She calls on the three tiers of government to do more to reverse the trend.

Obakhedo advises nursing mothers to do exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months as a strategy to boost child nutrition.

“Breast milk is the best; it has no substitute, it has the right proportion of nutrients, it is not contaminated, and it is at the right temperature,’’ she says.

She says nursing mothers must eat a balanced diet to be able to produce enough milk for exclusive breastfeeding.

She also urges pregnant women to feed well and go for antenatal visits to hospitals so as to boost the health of the babies in their wombs.

“Actually, prevention of malnutrition starts in the uterus. Some mothers neglect routine antenatal drugs.

“They should treat any underlying infection so it will not affect the health of the foetus.

A nutritionist, Mrs. Aisha Hussein, advocates returning to the old practice of home and school gardening as a strategy to improve child nutrition by adding greens to their daily diets.

She says home gardening gives fresh vegetables at no cost.

She regrets that malnutrition affects the physical and intellectual growth of children.

According to the Health Manager of UNICEF in Nigeria, Mr. Prosper Dakurah, it will take N10,860, or 15 dollars, to prevent a child from being malnourished, but it will cost N99,636 or 140 dollars to treat a malnourished child.

Dakurah warns that, if left untreated, children with severe malnutrition will be nearly 12 times more likely to die than healthy children.

According to the manager, UNICEF is committed to reaching millions of children in Nigeria with its interventions.

He says every dollar spent on nutrition will generate 16 dollars in economic returns.

Dakurah emphasises the need for states of the federation to urgently provide their counterparts funding to be able to access the Child Nutrition Fund (CNF).

CNF is a new financing mechanism designed to accelerate the scale-up of sustainable policies, programmes, and supplies to end child wasting.

It is designed to support government-led efforts in some of the countries that have the highest proportion of children under five years of age with wasting.

Dakurah gives the assurance that UNICEF will match any state’s counterpart fund provided by the CNF.

“You pay one dollar, and you get an additional dollar from CNF,” he says.

A nutritionist, Ms. Uju Onuorah, is optimistic that transitioning from iron folic acids (IFAs) for pregnant women to multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS) will significantly enhance nutrition for both mother and baby.

She notes that MMS was adopted based on the 2020 World Health Organisation’s recommendation on antenatal care for a positive pregnancy experience.

“A once-a-day pill packed with critical micronutrients, MMS contains 13 to 15 vitamins and minerals,’’ she explains.

She warns that deficiencies of micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron, and iodine are common during pregnancy due to increased nutrient requirements.

Analysts urge collective efforts to improve child nutrition in Nigeria to avoid the consequences of malnutrition, including stunting and wasting, which affect physical and cognitive development as well as reduced productivity, reduced human capital, andincreased healthcare costs.

By Ijeoma Popoola

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