CHIDIEBERE Mba is a three years and
two months old child who looks so frail and
underfed with all the attributes of malnutrition
such as stunting, wasting and underweight. Baby
Chidiebere is not as active as other children of
his age because he cannot talk, walk or even play
around, his mother said.
His mother, Mrs. Celestina Mba, his mother
had nine children but now reduced to six; she
has lost three as a result of illiteracy, ignorance
and cultural inhibitions around her environment.
Mrs. Clementina Mba and her children are part
of the victims of illiteracy, ignorance and cultural
barriers of society.
Mba who is from Mgbidi in Ogu Local
Government of Enugu State said that three out
of her nine children were snatched by the cold
hands of death when they were still tender. She
said that the norm of her people determines how
to feed her children.
First Mba she was not allowed to breastfeed
her babies with the first milk that comes out after
delivery and secondly, she was discouraged from
doing exclusive breastfeeding and was forced to
give the baby water.
She said, “When I gave birth, my breast was
not producing milk for three days so I started
giving water. I did not do exclusive breastfeeding
because I started giving my baby water
immediately after birth and because nobody told
me about exclusive breastfeeding of babies. For a
year and six months, the baby did not want to take
any other feed except water and breast milk, but
after then I started giving my baby only ‘’fufu’’
and rice. As a result, Chidiebere is now stunted
because of lack of balanced diet and exclusive
The mother said that the baby started crawling
at a year and four months and barely managed
to start walking after two years. The boy’s legs
are weak and he exhibits sickness. He is suffering
from weak bones and joints. He hears, because
he calls mummy but can’t talk beyond saying
mummy, Mrs. Mba explained.
“My people usually scold and criticise me
whenever I attempt to breastfeed my babies with
breast milk; they usually force me to give all my
babies water. My people will force me to always
give my babies water.
Another child suffering from malnutrition is
young Princess Chiwelotaram Mba, a six years
that looks like a child of three years old because
of stunting and wasting. Chiwelotaram whose
father is a palm wine tapper is from a family of six
children. He is also suffering from malnutrition
with signs of puffiness of the face with the shape
of the moon.
Both children, Chidiebere and Chiwelotaram
are part of the over 11 million Nigerian underfive
children suffering severe malnutrition and
stunting health conditions thereby making
Nigeria second only to India. Both children
from the South-east and South-south of Nigeria
are victims of ignorance and cultural barriers to
proper feeding because their mothers were not
allowed to feed them appropriately.
Illiteracy, ignorance and cultural barriers are
common factors which inhibit mothers from
giving good nutrition to their babies, the main
causes of severe acute malnutrition, SAM, that
is killing majority of Nigerian children before which often breaths ignorance and cultural beliefs
is also responsible for discouragement of mothers
from doing exclusive breastfeeding and especially
preventing mothers from giving their babies the first
breast milk after delivery which medical experts say
is the first base for immunity for life.
Significantly, majority of mothers have little or no
knowledge about exclusive breastfeeding of babies
for the first six months of life because of ignorance
and cultural barriers. Malnutrition situation in the
South-east and South-south region of the country
comprising Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa,
Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers
States, all have the same traits of stunting, wasting
and underweight children.
At a recent UNICEF media meeting in Enugu on
Media Dialogue on Child Malnutrition situation
in the South-east and South-south part of Nigeria,
Dr. Ken Ozoemena, Nutrition Specialist UNICEF
Port Harcourt Office, in a presentation titled, “The
child malnutrition situation in South East and South
South zones of Nigeria’’ said Nigeria accounts for
one-tenth of the global burden of severe acute underfive
malnutrition, SAM, with 2.5 million under-five
children who are severely malnourished. He further
stated that 2,300 U5 Nigerian children die every
day; more than a half of these deaths are related to
malnutrition causes.
According to him, 37% of U5 Nigerian children
are stunted, 29% underweight, and 18% wasted,
adding that about 30% of Nigerian children are
underweight (don’t weigh enough for their age),
more than double the proportion of underweight
Ghanaian children.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund,
UNICEF, “Every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300
under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing
age, thereby making the country the second largest
contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world.” Good nutrition is the bedrock
of child Survival, health and development. Well
nourished children are better able to grow and learn,
to participate in and contribute to their communities,
and also to be resilient in the face of disease, disaster
and other crisis.
Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr.
Chris Isokpunwu in a presentation titled, “Scaling
up nutrition in Nigeria: What is the Cost?” noted
that nearly one million children under the age of five
years die in Nigeria every year, thereby making the
country one of the highest contributors to under –
five mortality in the world.
Isokpunwa said, “Those who survive often
become stunted. Stunting is the major indicator used
to measure childhood malnutrition. It compares
the height with the age of a child too short for age
due to inadequate intake of the required nutrients
over a period of time Poor physical growth and
brain development resulting from poor nutrition in
children make them not to thrive and live to their full
He noted that many mothers do not know
how to put babies to breast for feeding. Also in
another presentation at the event by a UNICEF
Nutrition Specialist, Ngozi Onuora, titled,
“Investing in the child malnutrition for the future:
StopchildmanutritionNigeria with hashtag”,
explained that malnutrition occurs when people
consistently do not consume or absorb the right
amounts and types of food and essential nutrients.
She said that good nutrition is the bedrock of child
survival, health and development. Well nourished
children are better able to grow and learn to
participate, contribute to their environment.
The implication of malnutrition on the country,
the nutrition specialist said is that every single
day, Nigeria losses about 2,300 under-five year old
children and 145 women, adding that nutrition
is important because it affects all stages of the life
cycle. Onuora said that the multiple dimensions
of child malnutrition include stunting, wasting,
micronutrients deficiencies, overweight/ obesity.
According to her “Stunting reflects chronic under
nutrition and it is occurs when children are too short
for their age. Others consequencies of malnutrition
are wasting and underweight”.
Stunted children have poor physical growth and
brain development, preventing them from thriving
and living up to their full potential. According to
UNICEF, stunting is defined as the percentage of
children aged 0- 59 months whose height for age
is below minus two standard deviations from the
median of the WHO child growth standard.
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, Onuora explained.
Malnutrition occurs when people consistently
do not consume or absorb the right amounts and
types of food and essential nutrients. Malnutrition
in Nigeria can only be tackled with adequate
funding as there are indications that nutrition
matters are under-funded in the country largely
because of low political will and commitment
from government and stakeholders.
Mrs. Henrieta Ugwu, Enugu State Nutrition
Officer, Ministry of Health said that chronic
malnutrition is not just about one factor, it a
scenario of other things around the child. It also
means that a child could not have benefited from
a lot of complementary feeding; she could have
been introduced to watery pap at an earlier age.
Correction at this stage is, she said, “is on the
advice we give the mother, to place children
on local foods but there is this therapeutic food
which UNICEF gives to malnourished children.
Within a period of 10 days, the child is revived- it
is called a miracle food because it immediately it
is administered to a child, the child comes back
to life”.
Zakaria Fusheini, UNICEF Nutrition
specialist, Enugu, said that if a child is severely
malnourished, it means that the organs the
system is not working as it is supposed to.
Diseases would set in. It would not absorb the
nutrients as you and I would.
‘’In that case you need a kind of therapeutic
approach that the system absorbs the nutrients
in the body. Giving the child Ready to use
therapeutic food, RTUF, called the magic food is
necessary to make correction in body and revive
the child.
Speaking on budgeting for child nutrition in
the country, Social Policy Specialist for UNICEF,
Enugu , Ken Ozoemena said that child friendly
budgeting reflects the realization of children’s
rights and that national budget gets adequately
address children’s issues like poverty, illiteracy
and child protection.
Since children from 0- 18 years constitute over
48% of Nigerian population, placing children at
the centre of development planning will make
sustainable socio-economic development of all. So
government needs to increase nutrition funding
for overall development of human capacity.
UNICEF Records shows that over 11 million
of Nigerian under-five children are stunted,
making the country second to India. Nigerian
accounts for one-tenth of global burden of severe
acute malnutrition, SAM U5. 37% of under-five
Nigerian children are stunted, 20% underweight
and 18% wasted. Subsequently, 2,300 under-five
Nigerian children die every day and more than
half of these deaths are malnutrition related.
2.5 million under five children are severely
malnourished, about 30% of Nigerian children are
underweight , more than double the population
of Ghana.
About 70% of the children ages from 6- 23
months are not receiving the minimum adequate
diet. About 1 million under-five Nigerian
children affected by SAM each year and they
have severely low weight for their height. To
tackle malnutrition in Nigeria government
and all stakeholders must put their hands on
deck through adequate funding, education and
sensitisation of all.