Nigeria’s increasing population and child malnutrition

Africa is the second most populous continent in the world with over one billion people. Incidentally, the greatest number of births on the continent takes place in Nigeria. In fact, a forecast at a point did project that by 2015, one fifth of the continent’s entire births would take place in Nigeria alone, accounting for five per cent of all global births. Currently, Nigeria’s population is over 180 million.

Most critical is the United Nations statistics which report that 48% of Nigeria’s population is under the age of 15 – comparatively, a country of the young. And notwithstanding the fact that the population of children under the age of five years currently stands at nearly 31 million, no less than seven million new-born babies are excitedly added yearly without considering the implications. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of the population lives below poverty line.

In human medicine, the human body essentially requires seven major types of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, protein, vitamins, and water. Unfortunately, numerous families rarely have good square meals to meet up. On the other hand is a high fraction that suffers malnutrition due to ignorance of dieting.

For instance, there is a whole lot of natural, affordable foods and edibles that can boost nutrition but either unknown or ignored.  Archetypes are grasshoppers which according to research have 20 grams of protein and just 6g of fat per 100g while crickets are good sources of iron, zinc and calcium. Amazingly, grasshoppers contain more protein than beefs with a whopping 72% protein content including all essential amino acids, and without saturated fat or cholesterol.

The most pathetic class is large poor families who due to ignorance have more children than necessary. Unstructured pregnancies and births have continued to result to large families, regrettably, without commensurate livelihoods, thereby leading to often grabbing whatever is available for survival; with or without nutritional contents.

Instructively, nutrition or aliment, is the supply of materials; food required by organisms and cells to stay alive. Nutrition also focuses on how diseases can be prevented or reduced with a healthy diet and how certain diseases may be caused by dietary factors, such as poor diet, food allergy and intolerances.

The use of the ‘Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic-Food’ initiative of UNICEF has turned out to be a fêted relief as evidently shown in checking child malnutrition albeit costly. This was attested to by the health conditions of children who were hitherto malnourished but administered accordingly in the critical areas of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in the North-east.

Nonetheless, the crux of the matter is that despite these interventions from UNICEF with support from the Department for International Development in providing succour to the critical areas, about 258,950 children, mainly boys and girls, may suffer Severe Acute Malnutrition in the three states in 2020, according to Nutrition Sector annual projections. A budget of N5bn is hanging for the procurement of 258,950 cartons for the number.

According to UNICEF-Nigeria, funding has been secured for merely 29,314 cartons of RUTF with a funding gap of N4.4bn for these unfortunate victims. Sadly, nutrition experts avow that children suffering from SAM are four to 11 times more likely to die compared to their healthy counterparts. Altogether, an estimated 2.5 million boys and girls under the age of five suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition yearly in Nigeria.

The nutrition survey reported that the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition in children below five years is 11% in Borno, 13% in Yobe and six per cent in Adamawa, which indicates very high levels of malnutrition in Nigeria, according to the WHO classification.

UNICEF, on the other hand, affirms that one in every two child deaths under the age of five is attributed to malnutrition. And if not timely identified and treated, malnutrition has serious and permanent consequences in the growth and development of children. Above all, it causes irreversible brain damage and compromised intellectual capacity in adulthood leading to reduced productivity which accounts for estimated 16% loss in the Growth Domestic Product.

The challenge is, according to the 2019 World Population Review, Nigeria’s population will hit 206 million by 2020, and 264 million by 2030 – crossing the 300 million threshold around 2036. In absolute terms, Nigeria is projected to add from 2031 to 2050 an additional 224 million babies (21% of the births in Africa and eight per cent of all births in the world). Thus, Nigeria alone will possibly account for almost one tenth of all births in the world if not adeptly checked.

Understanding this demographic transition and conscientiously putting in place realistic interventionist policies will be helpful in securing a robust, thriving nation of our dreams. For instance, research has shown that in 16 African countries including Nigeria, less than 20% of women of reproductive age are acquainted with contraceptive methods, hence producing babies without restraint.

Practicable panacea is family planning. By its awareness, more women will practically have access to modern contraceptives, thereby reducing the number of unintended pregnancies to the barest minimum.  In other words, promoting family planning is a desideratum in addressing population upsurge. Similarly, sensitisation to diets and having small families to cater to will reduce child malnutrition.

Umegboro writes from Abuja via 08023184542. 

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