Malnutrition is known to constitute a serious setback to socio-economic development of any nation. That is why many a nation give priority to food security which is the only known solution to malnutrition. In Nigeria, governments over the years have come to realise that sustainable growth is achievable only under an environment in which the generality of the people are exposed to balanced diet, not just food. This explains why agricultural production is receiving heightened attention. Malnutrition, by implication, increases susceptibility to infection, slow recovery from illness, low quality breast milk and retarded physical and cognitive development particularly in women and children. In Nigeria, an estimated 2.5 million children under-five suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) annually, exposing nearly 420,000 children within that age bracket to early death from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria.
Apart from the challenges associated with poor domestication of policy, other shortcomings like weak nutrition governance, non-implementation of strategic plan of action, inadequate technical human resource and low coverage of proven intervention are prevalent across sample states in the Northern part of the country. For instance, Kano State records the highest number of stunted children with 1.4 million. The devastating impacts of malnutrition in the state led to the scaling up of Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme from six to 13 local government areas (LGAs) (out of 44 LGAs) with the most disturbing cases found among children under-five and pregnant mothers. It is, however, worrisome that the state’s CMAM facilities experience persistent stock of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) emanating from delay in the release of funding for needed procurement.
Similarly, in Katsina State, it costs N21,300 ($160) to cure a severely malnourished child. In 2017, no fewer than 13,676 severely malnourished children were saved through the state government/UNICEF intervention through Community Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition activities. The state records 4.1 per cent children with acute malnutrition, 35 per cent stunted, 14.9 per cent wasting and 18.5 per cent under-weight rates, as reports by Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2017 show. With 19 out of 34 LGAs living without CMAM, more funds are required to cure yet-to-cover SAM children in the state.
In 2017, Kaduna State recorded 17,989 children admitted to CMAM out of which 11,324 were cured, 1515 defaulted, 214 failed to recover, and 150 died, according to reports by Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey, 2017. As confirmed at a recent policy dialogue on nutrition financing organised by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), lack of uniformity in data presentation across levels of government on nutrition budgetary allocation and utilisation; inadequate legislative oversight on nutrition budget to ensure timely release and utilisation of fund, and persistent delay in budgetary release by the Ministry of Finance with the resultant recycling of budget lines hamper funding for nutrition interventions and constitute major challenges. Also, the lack of appropriate follow-up on the approved allocation to nutrition by responsible officers reportedly delay the release of nutrition funding, performance and intervention in the state.
By far, Nassarawa State falls within the worst hit region on malnutrition with 37.2 per cent stunted growth, 6.8 per cent wasting and 20.7 per cent underweight rates of children under- five. In 2017, no fewer than 33 children reportedly died from acute malnutrition in the state. Sokoto State ranks among the 12 northern states of Nigeria with high malnutrition prevalence, a factor that puts the state at risk of socio-economic setback. The state lags in adequate fulfilment of its counterpart funding to match agreed UNICEF’s intervention to address the malnutrition scourge. This unsavoury situation continues to create gaps in effective nutrition intervention in the state. In order to address the malnutrition scourge in parts of the country, especially in the Northern parts, it is the opinion of this newspaper that relevant authorities must to prioritise the establishment of CMAM existing policies’ implementation, adequate budgetary allocation, timely release, cash backing and utilisation of funds and oversight activities. Expanding the existing CMAM programmes to additional, prioritised local government areas for adequate coverage and timely intervention is paramount across the states. More importantly, we call on the states to strengthen the Women and Children Committees in their respective Houses of Assembly with special focus on nutrition to give desired attention to malnutrition through the adequate and sustainable provision of resources for Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF), routine drugs and complementary commodities. Furthermore, stakeholders must be proactive to ensure adequate synergy in amplifying the importance of adequate nutrition through enhanced education, awareness programmes and food security. This must be carried out simultaneously through institutionalising appropriate nutrition governance and accountability structures in the affected states to enhance accountability for nutrition interventions.
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