Malnutrition, a situation that occurs when the body doesn’t get enough nutrients due to poor diet, has continued to threaten the lives of under-five children in Nigeria, especially in North East.
This may hamper the country’s ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on nutrition by 2030.
SDG 2.1 target is to end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round while goal 2.2. is to end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.
Meanwhile, it is estimated that there are about 25 million under five children affected by wasting while more than 10million children are stunted in Nigeria due to long-term insufficient nutrient intake.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), stunting is what happens to a child’s brain and body when they don’t get the right kind of food or nutrients in their first 1,000 days of life.
The 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), shows that malnutrition is largely concentrated in Northern States; the proportion of stunted children is highest in the North-West at 57 per cent and lowest in the South-East at 18 per cent.
Nutrition experts have said that over 50 per cent of children in the North East may not attain their full potential due to Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
LEADERSHIP gathered that over one in two children are stunted in North East and North West while one in five children are stunted in the South and about 50 per cent of children in the 12 Northern States are stunted while only 20 per cent of children in the rest of the country are stunted.
Data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nutrition partners and state governments have showed that 10,165 children have died from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states between January 2017 and July 2021.
According to the data, the number of children that were admitted for SAM in OTP within the period in the three states were 1,375,681 and those admitted in stabilisation centre were 58,903, making a total of 1,434,584.
While analysing the data at a three-day media dialogue on Child Malnutrition Reporting, organised by UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in Maiduguri, Borno State, nutrition specialist, UNICEF, Ifeanyi Maduanusi, said the children with SAM admitted in OTP were those without medical complications while those with medical complications were admitted in stabilisation centre (SC).
UNICEF said the number of death recorded in OTP in the period were 7,020 and 3,145 in SC, totally 10, 165.A
A breakdown of the statistics indicates that admission in OTP was higher in 2018 (381,074), followed by 2017 (352,212), then 2019 (254,984), 2020 (236,553).
Meanwhile, UNICEF has identified multiple displacement, conflict, food crisis and others as factors fueling malnutrition in North East Nigeria.
The officer chief of field office, UNICEF Maiduguri, Samuel Sesay, said households in the region are experiencing unprecedented levels of food crisis and hunger, household food insecurity, poor infant and young child feeding and care practices as well as poor feeding environment, hygiene and health.
Sasay, who stated this during the media dialogue, said, “In North East Nigeria, conflict, multiple displacement, destruction of sources of livelihood for households, destruction of basic infrastructures and services, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic are peculiar contributors to the growing number of children affected by undernutrition.”
He described these factors as the underlying causes of undernutrition in children while identifying malnutrition as the biggest threat to child survival and development in the North East.
Malnutrition is the underlining cause of nearly half of all deaths in under-five children globally and it is currently the biggest threat to child survival and development in North East Nigeria,” he said.
Sesay reiterated that the importance of good nutrition on children’s development has far-reaching impact on child education, health, adult earning power, individual and family finance as well as the country’s economy.
He said early detection, referral, and good management of severe acute malnutrition in children remains key in saving children under the age of five from preventable deaths.
He, therefore, urged the governments of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states to increase their respective budgetary allocations and timely release of funds for nutrition, and also engage a multi sectoral approach where all relevant Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) combine efforts to address the undernutrition in the region.
Sesay, however, said UNICEF has been supporting government and non-government partners on early detection, referral and management of severe acute malnutrition; provision of ready-to-use therapeutic food in outpatient therapeutic feeding programme; deployment of community nutrition mobilisers in communities and IDP camps and establishment of mother-to-mother support groups.
Nutrition experts have, however, identified breastfeeding as an effective tools to tackle malnutrition among children.
They noted that initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, offer a powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity.
The communication officer, UNICEF Maiduguri, Folashade Adebayo, informed that the purpose of the workshop was to increase the knowledge and capacity of media practitioners on child malnutrition, adding that the outcome of the workshop is expected to elevate the visibility of child nutrition issues among policy makers.