Available records since the beginning of 2022, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF/Doctors Without Borders teams, indicated there have been extraordinarily high numbers of children with malnutrition located in five states across Northwest Nigeria. The problems of escalating violence, displacement, soaring food prices, epidemics and climate change are the factors triggering this alarming malnutrition crisis.
MSF teams, working in partnership with Nigerian health authorities in five Northwestern states, have treated more than 140,000 children for acute malnutrition in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi and Kano states.
In Zamfara state, MSF teams conducted a screening of more than 36,000 children under five years old in June, following a nutrition alert. The results were alarming, as more than half the children were found to be malnourished. Of the total screened children, almost every fourth was severely malnourished and in need of urgent medical care.
In Katsina, the teams quickly had to increase their in-patient capacity from 100 to nearly 280 beds in the last few weeks, but the influx of malnourished children was so significant that restricted admission criteria had to be introduced for some of the treatment centres.
In Kebbi, where MSF runs an in-patient and two out-patient facilities, a large number of malnourished children have been treated since March.
Dr. Simba Tirima, MSF Country Representative in Nigeria, posited that, “in the past few months, there have been unprecedented high numbers of malnourished children in the medical facilities where we work in partnership with the Ministry of health. We see children dying on the way to our clinics. We see children whose medical condition is so severe that we can’t do anything to save them.
“In Zamfara state, the admissions of children with severe acute malnutrition to our ambulatory therapeutic feeding centres are 39 per cent higher than last year. In Katsina state, the figures have skyrocketed to almost 80,000 children treated for severe acute malnutrition while 12,700 of them required in-patient care
“The scale of this crisis demands national and international mobilization for an adequate humanitarian response. We call on other organisations to join in and support the authorities in meeting the most urgent needs of the affected communities.
“The Northwest continues to be largely ignored in the overall UN-led humanitarian response and plans in Nigeria, which focus on the plight of the Northeast of the country. Ensuring greater access to lifesaving nutritional treatment for the thousands of people who need it now and during the next lean season is essential if we are to avoid 2023 becoming another devastating year for children in northwest Nigeria.”
Though, the United Nations, donors and other stakeholders are increasingly aware of the extent of the crisis in the northwest, but the UN’s current humanitarian response plan for Nigeria focuses on the critical situation in the country’s northeast region, excluding the northwest. It’s essential that the northwest is included in the next Nigeria humanitarian response plan for 2023, because this plays a key role in mobilizing the resources to save lives.
As a stop gap, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), an International non-governmental organisation and UN World Food Programme (WFP), are partnering with the Federal Government to promote rice fortification to address malnutrition.
The organisations made the commitment at the first National Summit on Rice Fortification event tagged: “Seeking New Solutions for Malnutrition in Nigeria,” organized by the Promoting Rice Fortification in Nigeria (PRiFN) project implemented by GAIN Nigeria and the WFP.
Dr Michael Ojo, Country Director, GAIN Nigeria, said that it was important to introduce nutrient enriched food products to address the deficiencies of vitamins and minerals, which posed severe health and economic threat to the country.
According to him, the rice fortification project which targets children under five, women of reproductive age, pregnant and nursing mothers, will also afford Nigerians the opportunity to meet up with their nutritional requirements.
He added that rice which was one of the essential staple for more than 50 per cent of the 210 million population in the country, offered an excellent window for massive health impact.
“The reason why we are talking about rice fortification is because large scale fortification works when a lot of people are consuming a particular food vehicle.
“When we designed the programme in 2002, maize and wheat were the staples mostly consumed, as you could find them in most households across the country.
“Over the years, rice has moved from something that we consume on festive seasons to an everyday food and most people across all income groups now consume rice multiple times every week or sometimes in a day.”
He, however, added that for the project to be successful there was need for mandatory compliance by all rice companies and producers to comply with the standards that would be set by the government.
On his part, Mr Serigne Loum, Head of Programme, WFP Nigeria, said the choice of rice fortification became important to address the pervasive micro-nutrients deficiencies among Nigerians.
He added that it would boost the nation’s economy as the country would be seen as the hub for rice fortification, not only for the local consumption but also for exporting to other West African countries.
“Malnutrition is a major issue now in Nigeria, especially when we look at it in comparison to some other countries, as acute malnutrition affects more than 2.5 million children in the country.
“Micro-nutrients deficiency affects 50 per cent in the form of anaemia for children between six and 59 months, for women of reproductive age, pregnant and lactating mothers.
“If we want improved health in Nigeria, it will be very important to invest more in fighting malnutrition and micro-nutrients deficiency specifically,” he added.