BY AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE and AZA MSUE
A United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (UNICEF) recent report on child malnutrition in Kaduna State puts the number of children facing the scourge at nearly 1.6 million with three local government severely affected. The pains of the traumatised children are further amplified by the anguish of their parents. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE and AZA MSUE report
lthough treatable, child malnutrition has become one of the most challenging health issues facing about 1.6 million children in Kaduna State despite the state been ranked as first in the production of maize, soya, tomato and ginger in the country.
If recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is anything to go by, the case of malnutrition in Kaduna State has taken a worrisome trend and cause for concerns for parents, medical experts, the state government and donor agencies.
In 2016, UNICEF reported that about 1.6 children in Kaduna State risk malnutrition. The report also had it that currently, over 900,000 children, representing 57 per cent children in the state are stunted; meaning six out of every 10 children of less than five years in the state are stunted due to malnutrition.
Also, over 750,000 children are wasted, which implies that 47 per cent of the children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and are 10 times more likely to die.
Severely affected according to the report are children in Igabi, Zaria and Makarfi local government areas of the state, where parents battle to save the lives of their love ones.
Our correspondent visited some medical facilities in the state recently to confirm the veracity of the UNICEF report on Kaduna malnutrition. Speaking to our correspondent, a parent, Amina Shehu said when she got pregnant and delivered of her baby, little did she know her child will be malnourished.
Mrs Shehu’s son, Ibrahim is receiving treatment at Children Unit of the Barrau Dikko Teaching Hospital, Kaduna. Although, her son’s condition has improved due to the medical attention and counseling she went through in the facility, her experience of a near death of her child was too frightening for her.
“When I was pregnant we don’t have much to eat. I delivered at home and since then my child became sick and when I took him to this hospital, they weighed him and after all examinations they told me my child is malnourished.
“They are attending to us well. Apart
from drugs, they also wrote the kind of food I should be giving to him on the daily basis. At a point, they admitted my son here but we thank God, things are better now. It was really a painful condition, I was hopeless at a point because there was no money to buy things they said we should buy for my son,” she said.
For Gambo Aisha, it was a case of a near loss, “When the health condition of my daughter became worse, we concluded that she will not survive. I sell fire wood in Ungwan Sarki to take care of my family. I have finished secondary school before I got married.
“I have six children and three faced similar problem. The doctor said she is not eating well, not much balanced diet in the food we eat. But how can we eat better food when there is no money to buy even the less quality food?
“We manage what we have in our home. My neighbour lost a child and the doctors said was malnutrition that caused the death. We are calling on the government to be giving free food to malnourished children because many of us mothers don’t have money to feed these children who are in this condition. We believe our governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai is a listening governor and he will do something about this issue of free feeding to malnourished children just like the governor is doing to primary school children in the state”, the mother of six said.
Another parent, Mrs Victoria Felix, called for the establishment of malnutrition health centres in each ward across the state: “My son is still on admission here at Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital. The doctors told me that his weight is below normal. He has been vomiting and refused to eat at times due to loss of appetite.
“We have nothing with us now to even buy things the doctor and nutritionist recommended for us. My husband is not working. I sell fresh vegetables for us to earn a living. To me, what I can say is government should establish malnutrition unit in all the local health centres across the state to take care of the malnourished children. Government should also come to our aid,” she said.
Although, Barau Dikko Teaching hospital nurses and other medical personnel were not willing to speak on the issue as they have to take permission from their superior before giving out statistics of patients and their condition, parents who spoke separately to our correspondent said the case is worse in rural areas.
UNICEF’s chief of nutrition, Mr. Arjan De Wagt, further revealed that most of the malnourished children in Nigeria are from northern part of Nigeria.
UNICEF, further noted that while 50 per cent of child mortality in the country has malnutrition as the cause, malnutrition is responsible for no fewer than 1200, out of 2600 estimated daily deaths.
Responding to the matter, Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, said he was proposing an annual budget of one billion naira to tackle malnutrition, among children in the state. El-Rufai disclosed this at a summit on emergency nutrition action plan held in the state.
The governor announced that as part of efforts to address hunger and starvation in Kaduna, the state government will set aside funds to take care of 50,000 malnourished children in collaboration with UNICEF. He however, called on the people of the state to invest at least 6,000 to 8,000 naira to save a malnourished child.
Speaking to our correspondent on the matter, a public health physician and chairman, Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria (APHPN) Kaduna State chapter, Dr Mohammed Sani Ibrahim, said the intermediate and remote causes of malnutrition must be addressed in order to arrest the problem in the country.
The community health expert was of the view that provision of food by the government to people may not actually end malnutrition in Kaduna state. He noted that since government cannot constantly feed the people all year round, “the underlying factors like social setting, culture, economy and policy of government affecting parent must be looked into.”
Explaining further, Dr Ibrahim said prices of food items affect parent’s access to quality food for their children.
“How many people know the type of local foods with protein, the issue of awareness comes here, parents need to know the type of food the child need to get protein even if they don’t access to eggs and others”, he said.
Adding further, Dr Ibrahim said healthcare delivery like vaccination against child killer diseases must be activated as lack of access to such medicare decreases the child ability to eat well.
“We need to have a strong health services and we all need to work on all factors to be able to increase access to food to increase productivity and decrease poverty in the society”, Ibrahim advised.
Meanwhile, wife of the Kaduna State governor and chairperson, Kaduna State Emergency Nutrition Action Programme (KADENAP), Hajiya Aisha Ummi el-Rufa’i, is said to be gearing effort to addressing the scourge.
Hajiya el-Rufa’i, had said in one of her malnutrition advocacy outings that “The nutrition indices leads to more than 50 per cent of under-five mortality in Kaduna State. This poor nutrition situation cuts across all the 23 local government areas of the state. As a mother my heart bled when I went round and saw the situation of women, expecting mothers and children in communities of this state, especially in health care centres and other outpatient therapeutic programme sites.
“It totally depressed me and gave me sleepless nights but it also triggered me into action with the purpose of saving lives and giving the women and children of this state, hope and a reason to live a meaningful and productive life”, she said.
Recently, the Kaduna State Emergency Nutrition Action Plan (KADENAP) commenced train-the-trainer programme to eradicate malnutrition in the state.
Speaking during the flag-off of the training programme entitled ‘Training on Community Management of Acute Malnutrition: Training of Trainers (ToT)’ for some selected health personnel in Zaria, Hajiya Ummi el-rufai, said the workshop was aimed at improving the quality of health workers’ service in the management of malnutrition.
The governor’s wife, who was represented by Alhaji Shehu Usman-Muhammad, a member of KADENAP, said: “It is specifically organised to train-the-trainers for them to train others in their various local governments and zones. It provides an opportunity to bring participants together from all over the state and best 20 will be selected to become trainers in the management of malnutrition in primary and secondary facilities,” she said.
Hajiya Ummi said the personnel were drawn from state and federal health agencies and training institutions, adding that management of malnutrition is a critical element toward ensuring healthy future generation.
The governor’s wife said she was motivated to be part of the crusade following a UNICEF’s study which showed high rate of malnutrition in the state, stressing that, both her and the governor saw the report and were not happy: “The children are malnourished not because of lack of food but because of ignorance, culture, food preparation and management. We took it upon ourselves to change the trend and to give a sense of hope to our future generation,” she said.
Also speaking during the training, Hajiya Hauwwa Usman, assistant state Nutrition Officer, Kaduna State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, said the workshop was meant to proffer solution to the acute child malnutrition problem in the state.
Usman said at the end of the training they want to get trainers who would train others on malnutrition at community management malnutrition centres at various local government levels across the state.
“We want to eradicate malnutrition in Kaduna State. To achieve that, we need to train our workers on how to go about the eradication process. It is through this kind of training that the health personnel will be trained for the benefit of others,” she said.
Also, the Kaduna State Emergency Nutrition Action Plan, KADENAP, chairperson, Hajiya Ummi el-rufai, has sought partnership with military hospitals in Kaduna State in its fight against malnutrition.
Hajiya Ummi el-Rufai, said the military, with its skilled personnel, structures and facilities, is a vital partner in improving nutrition outcomes for the children of Kaduna State.
To strengthen this partnership, Hajiya El-Rufai,who led members of the steering committee of KADENAP to visit 44 Army Reference Hospital, Kaduna, and the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, said that KADENAP can benefit from strong partnership with an organised
institution like the army: “Part of the reason we are here is to see how we can solicit the support of the army to help us in our KADENAP activities. We are trying to see how they can involve their skilled officers and personnel for us to be able to reach the hard-to-reach areas in giving out help to malnourished people. We are very excited that they have a well laid structure in place so it will be easy for us to align activities that we are requesting from them within the structures that they have planned.”
Responding, the commandant, Nigerian Army Depot, Brig. Gen. C.G Musa, assured of their support and cooperation. “Anything that has to do with health is key to us, because they say is wealth and for us health is survival. Nutrition is very important because whatever drug is administered to someone who is sick, without proper nutrition, will be a waste,” Musa said.