Nutrition, which is often referred to as a condition that occurs when people consistently consume or absorb the right amounts, types of food and essential nutrients, has often times helped to improve health indices like maternal, newborn and child health and contribute meaningfully to the growth of a nation. On the other hand, poor nutrition causes health problems. For instance, malnourished children have an increased risk of disability and premature death and are highly predisposed to infectious diseases. Nigeria has one of the highest burdens of malnutrition in Africa and globally, that has remained a key contributor to infant and maternal mortality and morbidity, poor cognitive development, increased severity of diseases which adversely affects productivity in the country.
According to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2013, more than five million new-born in Nigeria lack essential nutrients and antibodies that would protect them from diseases and death as they are not being exclusively breastfed. The National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHS) 2014, puts Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF) rate in Nigeria at 25 per cent. Also, the 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) puts stunting rate at 43.6 per cent as against 32.9 per cent in 2015, wasting in 2017 at 10.8 per cent as against 7.2 per cent in 2015 and underweight at 31.5 per cent in 2017 as against 19.4 per cent in 2015.
For instance, for Lagos State which is the among the states that have the largest population in the country, the MICS 2017 puts Stunting rate at 11.4 per cent, Wasting at 11.4 per cent and Underweight at 14.5 per cent.These negative results indicate an alarming rising trend in Nigeria’s malnutrition burden which will continue to further impede the nation’s economic development if not checked as globally, stunting is currently an indicator for measuring a country’s development. To avert the trend, stakeholders, at a one day media engagement on Partnership for Improving Nigeria Nutrition Systems (PINNS) emphasised the need to adopt proactive measures including making nutrition a priority on the agenda of the Nigerian government.
Essentially, the stakeholders stressed the need for government to improve funding for nutrition activities in view of its importance to health of the nation especially children’s health.
The executive secretary of the Civil Society Scaling –up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), Mrs. Beatrice Eluaka said nutrition investment can boost the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria, as much as 11 per cent.
Eluaka said nutrition investments are a best buy in today’s financially strapped environment as for every N100,000 spent on nutrition, government will have N2.5 million returns on investment.
She said, “Nutrition has a very high returns on investments and creates a lifetime benefits for the nation. For instance, early nutrition programmes can increase school completion by one year.
“Early nutrition programmes can raise adult wages by five to 50 per cent and children who escape stunting are 33 per cent more likely to escape poverty as adults.
“Reductions in stunting can increase GDP by three to 16 per cent in Africa, improves maternal and child health of the country and boosts annual GDP as much as 11 per cent.”
Speaking on what the government is doing to tackle the issue, she said the federal government, through the ministry of health launched a National Policy on Food & Nutrition in 2002 and revised in 2016, adding that the goal was to attain optimal nutritional status for all Nigerians.
For government to achieve the policy objectives, Eluaka said there is need for an improved food and nutrition security and enhance caregiving capacity.
She said enhancing provision of quality health services, improving capacity to address food and nutrition security problems, raising awareness and understanding of malnutrition in the country and resource allocation for food and nutrition security at all levels, would help the government to achieve its set goals on nutrition.
“We had a National Plan of Action that was not fully implemented due to poor funding and lack of understanding of roles of different players. National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition (NSPAN) is in place. Effort to develop a multi-sectoral Plan is on-going.
”We also know that improved nutrition contributes to higher GDP of a country. Nigeria has recognized the important role of nutrition to the socio-economic development of the nation. The global goal is the attainment of food and nutrition security. Nigeria is committed to achieving food security and adequate nutritional status for all its citizens,” she added.
Eluaka advocated that there is need for government to spend more on nutrition as government spending on related areas such as Agriculture, Health, Education, Social protection, water and sanitation has remained low and hence existing plans of action to address malnutrition are not fully implemented.
She however commended the Lagos state government for extending maternity leave for female civil servants to six months and introducing a 10-day paternity leave for fathers.
“This policy is a step in the right direction towards promoting Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF) which ensures optimal physical growth and brain development of children, engenders them to thrive well and live up to their full potentials at adulthood. It also prevents malnutrition.
“We are therefore calling on other state governments in Nigeria to emulate the Lagos State Government as this will contribute to encouraging the practice of Exclusive Breastfeeding especially among working mothers thereby boosting Nigeria’s EBF rate and contributing to a reduction in malnutrition in the country”, she had said.
In the same vein, the communications officer, CS-SUNN, Lilian Ajah-Mong said the overall goal of the organization is to contribute to the reduction of malnutrition among women and under five children by strengthening the Nigeria Nutrition Systems.
Specific goals, according to Ajah-Mong is to improve and implement the NMSPAN with focus on high impact nutrition interventions in the Health and Agriculture sector strategic plans designed to contribute to reduction in maternal and child malnutrition at national and focal states and a momentum for Scaling up Nutrition in Nigeria, through concerted Civil Society Action and to improve funding for Health and Nutrition at national and focal states.
“Limited visibility of nutrition issues, none use of evidence for action by policy makers, uptake of preventive measures for combating malnutrition such as: Exclusive breastfeeding and optimal Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) practices rates in the country are still very low and need to be improved upon.
“Transparency of government to fund allocation, disbursement and judicious utilization and its inability to keep to national and international commitments for funding nutrition are also contributory factors to the situation and CSOs capacity for sustained advocacy is still low due to inadequate advocacy skills and organizational capacity to attract funds for activities”, Ajah-Mong said, are parts of the challenges derailing the over all drive to ensure effective nutrition activities in the country.
She commended the federal and the Lagos State Government for combating malnutrition through health and nutrition friendly policies and plans and for providing for nutrition in their annual budgets.
She however called on governments’ at all level to domesticate and fully implement the multi-sectoral plans of action for nutrition, provide adequate funding for nutrition in all nutrition line ministries’ annual budgets, release and judiciously utilize allocated funds for high impact interventions. “Strengthen the coordination activities of National and State committees on food and nutrition to play their roles effectively and ensure nutrition services are prioritized and funded from the one per cent Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) at our primary healthcare centres,” she added.
However, experts are of the view that according top most priority to issues of nutrition including ensuring the provision of basic health and hygiene education to nursing mothers is critical to reducing the worrisome statistic as far as malnutrition induced child mortality is concerned.
Habibu Lawal Tanko is a member of the Health Reporters’ Forum, an organisation of journalists championing the cause for effective healthcare delivery. He told our correspondent that alot still needed to be done.
“Government at all levels especially Governors of states in the north which has the highest burden of malnutrition, need to step up funding for nutrition activities and support the good works being done by development partners like the Save The Children, UNICEF and other international non governmental organisation.
“Additionally too, these states need to revitalise and importantly, equip a standing food and nutrition committee”he enthused.