Nutritionists say that Nigeria needs $912 million to tackle malnutrition in the next five years, but presently about 2 million Nigerian children are suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM, and many others have died from malnutrition complications due to poor or improper nutrition. In this piece, Joyce Remi- Babayeju examines how low budgeting and funding by government is causing malnutrition and killing children in Nigeria.
Good nutrition is one of the essentials of life particularly at the very beginning of human formation, from the womb. Nutrition experts say that right from pregnancy, good nutrition is essential for the formation of the foetus through to the window period of 1000 days of a child that is the first two years of a child.
This simply means that every pregnant woman and children especially the under fives must eat balanced diets which consists of the six essential nutrients of foods namely carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water and at the right time.
As Nigeria celebrates the International Day of Children, IDC, the big question which should be on the lips of every welling meaning Nigerian who cares for the next generation is does the government have interest of its children at heart and is child nutrition being adequately funded to provide the basic food nutrients for children?
More than 2 million Nigerian children are facing the dearth of good nutrition as a result of many factors including low budgeting and financing by the three tiers of governments which are the Federal, State and Local government, this aside from other factors like ignorance of the right type of diets using local available foods and the culture of breastfeeding which is the first step in good child nutrition.
In fact t malnutrition situation in Nigeria has assumed an alarming rate and recently it was declared an emergency by the World Health Organization, WHO, as more children are are suffering from malnutrition complications like stunting, wasting and underweight in states in horn of Nigeria consisting the North East, North West; in the South East, South South and indeed other parts of the country.
Before now malnutrition was assumed alien to Nigeria because it was not reported but recently with insurgency and attendant famine in Boko Haran crisis region of the North East of the country where many Nigerians especially the under fives are displaced and worst hit by malnutrition. The situation is the region is worst because many children are now living in Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, Camps, away from the comforts of their homes and exposed to poor feeding habits and diseases.
Another question is, would Nigeria celebrate its children who are dying from malnutrition because government is not paying enough attention to childhood feeding?
In a keynote address by the Minister of Health, Professor Isacc Adewole at the National Conference on Complementary Feeding Practices for Children 6- 23 months, he said that malnutrition in children, he said, ‘’ Nigeria has over a decade experienced poor health and nutrition indices as 11 million children are affected with chronic malnutrition due to the 37% stunting rate in 2013. Making Nigeria a contributor of 7% global burden of stunting and over 20% in Africa’’, adding that poor infant and young child feeding, IYCF, practices among the main causes of prevalence of chronic malnutrition.
Also the minister disclosed that in the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey, 37% of children between the ages of 6 to 23 months consumed the minimum dietary diversity and only 17.5% children aged 6 to 23 months and 12.5% infants 6-11 months have access to a minimum of acceptable diet.
This has clearly shown that majority of Nigerian children are not eating balanced and proper diets. This is subject to factors like ignorance, culture, illiteracy but the majorly low funding by the Federal and State governments and lack of political will by policy makers.
Senator Lanre Tejuosho, Chairman of Senate Committee on Health at a High- Level policy dialogue on ‘’Nigeria’s nutrition crisis’’ had urged policy makers to marry political will that gave rise to the National Food and Nutrition Policy with the actions needed to achieve the impact.
Tejuosh called for a USD 305 million, about one billion naira investment in the 2017 budget in nutrition to meet up cost of scale-up a set of nutrition programmes across the country.
The lawmaker said that N2.3 billion is required per round to implement the minimum package of nutrition interventions with an average of N68 million per state is needed for each round.
At a media dialogue on child malnutrition organized by the United Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in Enugu with the theme: ‘’Investing in Child malnutrition for the future ‘’, in a presentation by Mr Ken Ozoemenam, Social Policy Specialist, UNICEF Enugu on Child- Friendly Budgeting: Addressing Child malnutrition, had disclosed that for Nigeria to tackle malnutrition and related deaths, $912 million, approximately 3.2 billion naira is needed over the period of five years to address malnutrition in the country which means that each state needs not less than N58 million to fed children.
Ozoemenam said that about 2.5 million Nigerian children have severe acute malnutrition but only 1.7 million children are under Federal Government’s intervention.
This he said means that there are still a lot of unmet children because of low funds, non- commitment by governments and policy implementation even for the scare fund available.
Unfortunately Nigeria is seen to be paying lip service to child diets and so lagging in funding when compared with other African countries.
A Global Nutrition Report 2015 shows estimates of 2014 allocations to nutrition in government budgets –Country Actual allocation, nutrition specific interventions (US$) Actual allocation, nutrition specific, as % of total government budget Benin 673,000 0.03 Burkina Faso 4,025,000 0.12 Burundi 60,000 0.01 Kenya 8,635,000 0.05 Madagascar 5,339,000 0.37 Mauritania 22227,000 0.10 and Nigeria FMOH – 2016 Less than 10.dollars
However some states making money available are Kaduna – N300 million, Gombe – N17 million , Bauchi – N17 million and Sokoto – N50 million, the rest are yet to respond.
UNICEF said is that 2.5 million under-five children are severely malnourished in Nigeria and 2,300 U5 Nigerian children die every day; more than a half of these deaths are related to malnutrition causes.
over 11 million U5 Nigerian stunted, ranking Nigeria 2nd only to India, out of this 37% of U5 Nigerian children are stunted, 29% underweight, and 18% wasted , making Nigeria to account for one-tenth of the global burden of severe acute under-five malnutrition, SAM.
About 30% of Nigerian children are underweight (don’t weigh enough for their age), more than double the proportion of underweight Ghanaian children, UNICEF said.
Malnutrition occurs when people consistently do not consume or absorb the right amounts and types of food and essential nutrients.
Main indicator of malnutrition is stunting, that is when children are too short for their age. Others are wasting and underweight.
Stunted children have poor physical growth and brain development, preventing them from thriving and living up to their full potential.
Adequate nutrition during the 1st 1,000 day period (from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s 2nd birthday) can avert malnutrition, ensuring that children have the best possible opportunity to grow, learn, and rise out of poverty. Effects of malnutrition are often irreversible after this period, Ozoemenam said.
According to the Nutrition Specialist Child-friendly budget provides policymakers, implementers/legislators with the necessary information to consider specific needs of children.
The percent of children in Nigeria who are wasted, or too thin for their height, has steadily increased, rising from 11 percent in 2003 to 18 percent in 2013.
About 70 percent of children ages 6 to 23 months are not receiving the minimum acceptable diet
About 1 million Under 5 Nigerian children affected by SAM each year and these children have severely low weight for their height.
Nearly 4 out of 5 Nigerian children do not meet the WHO recommendation for RBF during the first 6 months of life.
First 1,000 day period — from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s 2nd birthday — represents a critical window of opportunity. Adequate nutrition during this period can avert malnutrition, ensuring that children have the best possible opportunity to grow, learn, and rise out of poverty. Effects of malnutrition are often irreversible if nutrition is not optimized during period.
Typical situations of malnutrition can be found in the North East, South East and South South regions of the country, but the fact remains that malnutrition could become endemic in Nigeria if other states and the Federal Government do not meet up with the $ 912 million required to rescue Nigerian children from the jaws of malnutrition and infant mortality.
At least with more money the Federal Government OF Nigeria in collaboration with UNICEF and other donors would increase to other states with alarming numbers of cases the number of Community- Based Management of Acute Malnutrition, CMAM, intervention centres as seen in Sokoto state and environs.