Malnutrition and Nigerian children — THISDAY

Posted by News Express | 9 October 2021 | 412 times

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•Malnourished Nigerian children


. . . The authorities must do more for the country’s hungry and ill-fed children

Going by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) projection, at least 1.15 million Nigerian children between one and five years may suffer from acute malnutrition this year in the Northeast alone, with more than half of them expected to be severely malnourished. Over 123,000 pregnant or lactating women are also expected to suffer from acute malnutrition. “Today, we are facing a most dramatic situation for children living in northeastern Nigeria,” says Dabagai Dabagai, director of Action Against Hunger in Nigeria. “Projections for 2021 show acute malnutrition rates require immediate action to save lives. Between insecurity, displacement, lack of access to food and hygiene, as well as inadequate health care practices, the factors leading to this disease are numerous.”

Sadly, even though malnutrition is the underlying cause for a third of child mortality in the world, it is yet to receive the nature of high-profile campaigning and investment necessary to address it effectively in Nigeria. Meanwhile, stunted growth implies a marked increase in the child’s susceptibility to infections and contributes to child mortality. Invariably, pregnant women who are not adequately nourished eventually give birth to babies with low weight, thus putting their survival at risk. The costs of disregarding this issue in human and economic terms cannot be quantified.

That is the situation we are in today in Nigeria. Data from a recent Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) reveal that more than five million newly born in Nigeria lack essential nutrients and antibodies that would protect them from diseases and death. In low and middle-income countries like Nigeria, the age 3-24 months is a time when growth falters for too many children. An inadequate diet during this period increases the risk of stunting, micro-nutrient deficiencies, illnesses, and death. Some of the factors identified include poor infant feeding and attitude of mothers to exclusive breastfeeding.

Political commitment is therefore necessary to ensure advocacy on the adverse effects of malnutrition. Partnership with civil society and academic institutions with focus on food and nutrition is also an imperative while there should be a commitment to establishing a road map and coordinated mechanisms for implementing activities for up-scaling nutrition in the public sphere. This road map should consist of clear roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders, as well as implementable strategies, with milestones for mainstreaming nutrition into agriculture, fortifying basic foods with essential minerals or vitamins, and mobilising communities for action on growing more beneficial foods.

For effective health and social protection, mothers must also be encouraged to adopt exclusive breastfeeding habits for their babies for the first six months. Thereafter, complementary feeding can be introduced for 24 months, and the consumption of various nutrients such as Vitamin A, iodized salt and zinc, among others.

From all the available reports, government, at practically all levels, needs to sit up by addressing the crushing indices and causes of malnutrition that have continued to deprive over half of our children (and mothers) of a healthy and productive life span. Unless the government as well as other critical stakeholders take immediate steps to address hunger and malnutrition, especially in children and pregnant women, the poor indices on maternal and child mortality will only further worsen. That precisely is the challenge of the moment. Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger.

Source: News Express

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