Nigeria’s malnutrition burden

The recent report by Doctors Without Borders (DWB) that the North-west geo-political zone is reeling under the weight of kid malnutrition should be of a serious cause for concern in view of its socio-economic implications for the future generation.

The DWB’s finding is also in tandem with a survey conducted WaterAid a couple of years back indicating that Nigeria is home to over 12m children that are stunted but mostly warehoused in the North.

According to global statistics, Nigeria is ranked second in the world behind India which harbours about 48m, even though it boasts of a higher population put at about 1.3bn. Hot on the heels of Nigeria are Pakistan, Indonesia and China in that order.

The report, entitled: “Caught Short” puts Nigeria’s figure at 12, 321,000, followed by Pakistan- 9.89m, Indonesia – 8.72m and China – 8.04m. It further revealed that out of 132 countries surveyed, 159m children under the age of five are stunted – at the ratio of one out of every four kids.

The agency also said that stunted growth in children cannot only be attributed to nutrition and gene constitution. Stunting in children is an indication that they have not developed as they should, physically or cognitively. The report also said that stunting is largely irreversible after attaining the age of two.

Also as recently as 2015, the project director of Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CSSUNN), Mrs. Ngozi Onuora, sounded a similar alarm that about 11m under-five Nigerian children were stunted.

The project director further said: “This means they cannot reach their full potential if Nigeria did not reverse the trend.”

She identified states like Kebbi, Jigawa and Kaduna as recording 61 per cent, 59 per cent and 57 per cent rates of stunting in children, respectively, urging that the government should start implementing the National Strategic Plan of Action and set out budget lines for nutrition sensitive sectors like ministries of Health, Agriculture and National Planning in its coordinating role to ensure that funds were made available to implement nutrition sensitive activities.

Malnutrition, one of the key factors responsible for stunted growth in children, is driven by grinding poverty afflicting majority of Nigerian families both in the rural and urban communities. Most parents breeding stunted children can hardly feed well. No parents can provide what they do not have. In some instances, even when the right meals are available, most parents pass down small percentages of nutritional meals to their children while they corner the lion’s share in the erroneous belief that they are just kids.

But the truth is that children need adequate nutritious diet in their formative years to develop well both physically and mentally, and even at conception through what their mothers consume. The reason why many children are intellectually deficient is rooted in malnutrition.

What appeared as the silver lining in the dark cloud came when three or so years ago, the federal government disclosed its plan to provide a litre of milk daily to 30m children in primary and secondary schools across the nation under a school feeding programme. The former minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, had made the revelation during a meeting with a team from the West African Milk Company, Abuja.

Chief Ogbe gave the assurance that the measure would tackle the problem of malnutrition among Nigerian children affecting their growth and development. He quoted the UNESCO statistics stating that 24 per cent Nigerian children under the age of five were underweight, while 37 per are undernourished.

Blueprint had welcomed the federal government’s initiative because we believed it would complement the scheme already in place in some states like Osun and Borno which had free feeding progammes in primary and secondary schools at the time. Although the free school feeding fever has spread to several states across the country, the white revolution which the milk was to represent, had remained a pipe dream long after Chief Ogbe exited the scene.

Nigeria is endowed with adequate resources to provide the needed nutrition for school kids. In the 70s, most secondary schools especially in the old Northern Region had regular supplies of what was referred to as the Kennedy Powdered Milk, an American initiative to nourish the Nigerian children at their formative age.

The federal, state and local governments should also create an enabling environment for parents to wean themselves from grinding poverty which is the major factor responsible for their inability to bring balanced diets to the family tables. This can be achieved through sustainable diversification of the economy leading to provision of employment opportunities at all levels and across the nation.

It is common knowledge that the phenomenon of malnutrition is more prevalent in the rural communities. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as relevant stakeholders have a herculean task to ensure that their operations impact positively on the rural dwellers that depend on farming for their livelihood. Presently, the average Nigerian family is barely able to afford quality meals owing to the punishing high cost of living, arising from economic downturn, food insecurity and the current scarcity caused by widespread flooding that has ravaged farmlands across the country.

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