Federal government has declared a state of emergency on malnutrition in the North-East due to an increasing number of affected children. Dr Abubakar Jimoh writes that in the light of this, wife of the president, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, launched an interventionist programme to save the lives of thousands of affected children.

United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, in 2012 released a report tagged ‘At a Glance: Nigeria’. The report stated that:  “Nigeria has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world. One in seven children die before their fifth birthday.” It noted that in Nigeria, clean water is hard to come by in northern Nigeria and singled out the General Hospital, Katsina, as one health facility among several others in Northern Nigeria where ‘half a dozen infants are being treated for severe malnutrition problems.”

In its 2010 report titled ‘No Child Born To Die’, another global partner in child development, Save the Children reported a survey it conducted in Daura and Zango- both in Northern Nigeria, thus, “Although Nigeria possesses great wealth in oil and has experienced recent economic growth, 54 percent of its people live below the poverty line. The poorest 20 percent of children are three times more likely to be underweight than the richest 20 percent.

“A mother’s malnutrition is closely linked to malnourishment in her newborn babies and children, so the fact that 18.4 percent of women of child-bearing age in Katsina State were found to be undernourished is a cause for concern.

“Besides poverty, the other key cause of malnutrition is lack of access to healthcare, water and sanitation. In Northern Nigeria, for example, only 0.9 percent of infants receive all basic vaccinations and in the two local government areas studied, 34 percent do not have safe drinking water and 22 percent do not have a safe way of disposing human waste.”

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The report decried the disinclination of previous administrations in the country to social protection policy. According to its document, No Child Born To Die, “Social protection coverage is negligible. Nigeria currently spends less on social protection than other sub-Saharan African countries, and two-thirds of its overall social protection expenditure goes to the civil service. Where programmes do exist, the payments are of marginal value, health services are often inadequate and there is lack of well-trained officials and institutional capacity to implement policies.”

Aware of these challenges and to let every citizen feel the impact of government, wife of the president, Mrs Aisha Buhari, is determined to give everyone a sense of belonging, beyond the channeling of attention to women and children only. This is evident in the christening of her pet project- Future Assured and its offshoot, Get Involved – names that are by no means suggestive of asymmetry but inclusive in form and nature. As the future is assured for women, so it is for men through the various action plans that Mrs Buhari is rolling out for the upliftment of families and society. To her, needless to empower a woman only, when the man also needs empowerment to cater and support the woman and child. The man, after all, is also a crucial component of the family unit.

It was based on this understanding that the wife of the president recently launched Get Involved– a quick interventionist programme to halt yearly deaths of malnourished children in the country on the strength that every child is entitled to a meal every day. She believes that when children are fed regularly and in the required proportions, their parents save money for medications and are free from mental and financial stresses. Nationally, the image and Gross Domestic Product, GDP, of the country are enhanced when its citizens are healthy.

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Moreover, by the christening of the programme, it calls for the involvement and support of local and foreign government agencies and private organisations. Already, some international bodies besides UNICEF and Save The Children are currently assisting Nigeria in the fight against poverty, malnutrition and child mortality. They include World Health Organisation, WHO, Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, Partnership for Transforming Health Systems, PATHS, and Department For International Development, DFID.

Currently, the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has appointed a new ministerial team for the department, which has planned to provide 100 million pounds through the Girls’ Education Challenge to help girls who have dropped out or never attended school. And with the commitment Mrs Buhari is showing in promoting female education and other issues concerning the girl-child, Nigeria is likely to benefit from the grant and others that have been set aside by development partners in implementing policies aimed at guaranteeing quality food, health, education, sanitation and safe drinking water for every Nigerian.

She commenced these intervention measures at Bama and Maiduguri camps for Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, where she donated four tons of ready to use products (soy kunu for adults/pregnant and lactating mothers and soyalac for children) to fight malnutrition prevalent among inmates in the camps. These inmates are not only women and children, but also adolescent boys, fathers and grandfathers.

Hajiya Aisha also cared about widows, the less privileged and people living with disabilities across the country. She distributed food items such as bags of rice, spaghetti, semolina, packaged garri, custard, gallons of vegetable oil and cartons of tomato paste last month to cushion the effects of hunger among the young and old, irrespective of their sex.

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And to strengthen her concern for parents of the abducted Government Secondary School, Chibok, students in Borno State, Mrs Buhari recently presented N30 million cash support to them to alleviate their anguish over the disappearance of their children. Each parent of the 215 children that are yet to be rescued got N139,000.

In Nigeria, government organisations whose participation is also being sought by the wife of the president in combating hunger and ensuring qualitative health and education among citizens include the ministries of health, agriculture and rural development, education, women affairs and youth and sports development. Already, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, recently, launched the Rapid Result Initiative to hasten healthcare intervention in the country, while the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, has been vigorous in Vitamin A food fortification, not only for children, but for every citizen. According to NAFDAC, foods fortified with Vitamin A help in improving eyesight and developing bones, muscles and body cells and tissues.

Mrs Buhari also expects the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, to join hands in mitigating high mortality rates among citizens, especially pregnant women and children through the formulation of dependable health policies and implementation plans. The National Orientation Agency, NOA, and the media are expected to institute enlightenment strategies in this direction towards discouraging early marriage and teenage pregnancies in combating hunger and infant mortality.

The Get Involved scheme also requires the support of non-governmental organisations and well-meaning citizens in enhancing the living conditions of every citizen. This, everyone can do by ensuring that every child is in school; none goes to bed hungry and all can access health care and the basic needs of life.

Dr Abubakar Jimoh writes from Abuja

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