Children in Northeast Under Siege, 1 in 6 Severely Malnourished

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…Insurgency; a major driver of malnutrition

By Chika Onyesi 
A Child with Severe Acute Malnutrition
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Situation

The need to tackle the persistent threat of Malnutrition in Nigeria has again been brought to the fore; this follows a recent discovery that child malnutrition has gained new heights nationwide.
The situation is even more precarious with current data from UNICEF revealing that about 25million under-five children are wasted, that is ‘‘too thin for their age’’ and over 10million others stunted ‘‘too short for their age’’ as a result of Severe Acute Malnutrition. 
The recent surge in cases of malnutrition may socially be attributed to poverty, insufficient food, poor healthcare services or even unhealthy environment but nutrition experts say ‘‘there is more than meets the eye’’.
Insurgency Fuelling Malnutrition
According to Dr Davis Omotola, a nutrition consultant, ‘‘Child Malnutrition affects children of 0-5 years when they lack the right amount of essential nutrients in their diets and is worsened by poor maternal and child care’’.
These micronutrients derived from adequate dietary intake is responsible for the health, growth and development of children, while their lack is accountable for the death of more than three million children each year around the world
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, child malnutrition is getting out of control and contributing to the death of children under five years.
Child malnutrition is prevalent in six geo-political zones of the country, but experts say children in the North-Eastern states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno are the worst hit.
According to the latest data by UNICEF, about 50% of children in 12 Northern states of Nigeria are stunted while only 20% of their age mates across the country have the same condition.
Dr. Davis Omotola says the current surge in the number of malnourished children in the North East is the result of increased insurgent activities in that part of the country.
‘’In the North East, One case of Severe Acute Malnutrition is reported in every six children in the emergency states, while only One severe acute malnutrition case is reported in every 7 children in 9 northern none emergency states, but only one case out of every 77 children is reported in the rest of the country’’
This means that the prevalence of Severe Acute Malnutrition among children of 6 to 59 months is only at 7% nationally, while most of the burden is reserved for poor children in the North East at 49.9%.
Malnourished Children in IDP Camp

 

The challenge of malnutrition is even more alarming as children with severe acute malnutrition have nine-fold risk of death compared to their well-nourished counterparts.
Medically, this is because such children do not have the required micro-nutrient for their age and lack immunity to withstand the five dreaded childhood killer diseases.
‘‘In Nigeria, 1 in 5 children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) cases would die if treatment is not provided says Dr. Davis Omotola’’
Experts worry that deaths would continue to be the fatal outcome of malnutrition for a long time if the major cause of the problem is not nipped.
“Boko Haram is a ‘major driver’ of severe acute malnutrition,  violence has led to high food insecurity and the spread of endemic diseases, sources of livelihoods have been lost and access to clean water or sanitation non-existent’’.
Also, according to a 2014 National Bureau of Statistics survey, Maternal nutrition, mother’s educational levels as well as poor exclusive breastfeeding habits at only 40% were major contributors to children’s’ nutritional status.
‘There was significant variation in the number of live births by women who took Vitamin A, Iron, Iodine, and Zinc supplements, while uneducated women of 15 to 19 years were less likely than women in age 20 to 49 years to have taken iron supplements during pregnancy’’ NBS 2014
What is Needed
The solution to the menace of malnutrition according to experts is an investment into the first 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and child’s first two years of life.
This period is medically considered the most critical window of opportunity for malnutrition prevention.
Perhaps this is why UNICEF has now clearly marked a target burden to be alleviated.  
The global charity wants to reach about 500,000 children and over one million women with supplementary food through 650 outpatient therapeutic centres, especially in the Northeast.
According to Nutrition expert, Dr. Omotola, over 100 million dollars was required in 2018 to adequately tackle the situation   
‘‘UNICEF alone would also need over 1 billion dollars to confront child malnutrition’’
But how can this be achieved considering Nigeria’s current poor nutrition investment status?  
Speaking at a recent media dialogue, nutrition consultant, Dr. Davies Omotola said nearly half of the funds for 2017 were only released in 2018. 
What then happened to the funds required to fight malnutrition for 2018? 
While this question begs for answers, it also brings to mind the fact that malnutrition is too delicate a challenge to be left for government alone.
The benefit of investing in malnutrition is perhaps the conviction needed to trigger the desired social change.
Experts say investment in nutrition would prevent nearly half of child mortalities, boost the economy by 50% and increase school attendance.
‘‘For every dollar invested in reducing stunting among children, there is a return on investment of $16 dollars’’ Dr. Davies says
He says ‘‘children are also likely to escape poverty by 33% in adulthood if the adequate investment on nutrition is made’’
There is also research to prove that well-nourished children are healthier, more brilliant and are likely to be productive adults later on in life.
On-Going Efforts
The nutrition investment case in Nigeria may be at an all-time low, but the story is not all gloom, an Integrated Basic Nutrition Response with a multi-sectoral pilot is currently underway in Borno and Yobe states
The intervention sponsored by the UK Aids’ Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Nations Children’s Fund has seen over 1.5 million individuals receive treatment.
According to Dr. Martins Jackson, a UNICEF Nutrition Officer, ‘‘about 1, 239,802 children received Vitamin ‘A’ supplements in Borno and Yobe states.
‘‘195,000 pregnant women received Iron/ Folate supplements’’
‘‘38,700 children with severe acute malnutrition are admitted for treatment’’
‘‘6,500 community members have been reached with Water, Sanitation and Hygiene interventions’’ 
Additional 32,000 mothers received N5, 000 each month as a motivation to exclusively breastfeed and provide adequate complementary foods for their children.
The DFID has further procured more than 200,000 cartons of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food, RTUF, enough to cover 240,000 children with Severe Acute Malnutrition for 2018.
More Action
Going by the facts and figures on the current situation of malnutrition in Nigeria, it is certain that malnutrition is a major hindrance to the country’s socio-economic development.
This is why nutrition experts now want the government to improve Nigeria’s nutrition investment case and tackle insurgency and poverty.
They are also calling for increased awareness of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and adequate complementary feeding.
But most importantly they want support for all ongoing efforts in the fight against malnutrition.

 

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