Malnutrition, which results in death, stunting, underweight and wasting among children under age five, has remained a public health concern in Nigeria.
According to the United Nations Children’s Funds (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. It also estimated that about 11 million children under the age of five are stunted in Nigeria.
It says more than 14 million Nigerian children are chronically malnourished and 2.7 million acutely malnourished. Nigeria has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five.
Stunting, in addition to an increased risk of death, is also linked to poor cognitive development, a lowered performance in education and low productivity in adulthood – all contributing to economic losses.
UNICEF, however, recommended that cross-sectoral solutions to strengthen the health, food, water, sanitation and social protection systems can reverse these high numbers and keep children alive.
These worrisome statistics prompted the call by the Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, (CS-SUNN) and other stakeholders on the need for relevant ministries to create a budget line for malnutrition.
They said without budget line, the county will continue to score zero at the international level because assessment is based on budget line.
Speaking during an advocacy visit to the Ministry of Education and the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, deputy director and head of nutrition, Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning, Mrs Chito Nelson, regretted that many MDAs do not have budget line for nutrition.
She stressed the need to start to sensitise school children on the importance of nutrition from young age, saying “We want the narrative to change in terms of nutrition. The education ministry should give necessary support to improve the nutrition status of children, both in primary and secondary school. School children should be given adequate fruits and vegetables”.
She advised the ministry to create a space for nutrition desk officer, which will serve a great role in information management and dissemination.
The executive secretary, CS-SUNN, Mrs Beatrice Eluaka, said Nigeria is the second country with the highest burden of malnutrition globally, worrying if nothing is done, in the years to come, the country would have groom leaders without brain.
She stressed the essence of multi-sectoral approach in tackling malnutrition in the country, saying no one sector has the solution to malnutrition problem, not even the health sector.
According to her, the country is still battling with malnutrition then over nutrition is coming up with about two per cent obesity among Nigerian children.
She added that the country needs to start thinking towards domestic funding for nutrition, saying it can not keep relying on foreign donors to drive nutrition intervention, hence the need to create budget line.
Eluaka identified ineffective coordination of nutrition activities across the country, inadequate fund allocations and releases for nutrition and low uptake of preventive measures for combating malnutrition such as exclusive breastfeeding and optimal infant and young child feeding practices as some of the challenges bedeviling the Nigerian Nutrition System.
The ES urged the Ministry of Education to improve the capacity of nutrition teachers, saying it is essential to develop the capacity of nutrition teachers on a regular basis, so as to pass adequate information to school children regarding adequate nutrients.
The director, science and technology, Federal Ministry of Education, Mrs Adedigba Elizabeth, assured that the ministry will continue to support core nutrition related activities in schools in the country.
She however, said that there was need to allocate adequate fund for nutrition in schools in the country.
The permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Dr. Ifeoma Anyawutaku, said noted that nutrition is very key to national development, saying “We will do our best to see that we have something on nutrition in our national plan.
“Even though we are challenged by funding, we will continue to intensify efforts. We have realised the importance of nutrition, and we will not give up now”.
Meanwhile, the National Council on Nutrition, has approved a five-year nutrition action plan to guide the implementation of interventions and programmes against hunger and malnutrition across all sectors in the country.
The action plan, titled the “National Multi-Sectoral Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (NMPFAN) 2021-2025, aims to reduce the proportion of people who suffer malnutrition by 50 percent and increase exclusive breastfeeding rate to 65 per cent. It also aims to reduce stunting rate among under-five to 18 per cent by 2025 by scaling up impact nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions.