August 12, 2015

Malnutrition: Nigeria’s silent crisis

Stock image.

By Sola Ogundipe

A SILENT crisis is raging in Nigeria. Each year, no less than  one million Nigerian children die before their fifth birthday. Malnutrition contributes to nearly half of these deaths.  In Nigeria, malnutrition remains a great challenge, particularly for mothers and children. It contributes to the deaths of about half a million children each year — or about 1 out of every 2 child deaths — and imposes a staggering cost to the nation.

AT RISK OF MALNUTRITION: A mother and her infant.

AT RISK OF MALNUTRITION: A mother and her infant.

Health experts at a media dialogue on child malnutrition with the theme: “Spend More Money on Nutrition”, organised by UNICEF in collaboration with its partners,  said the first 1,000 days represents a critical window of opportunity.

Adequate nutrition

They said adequate nutrition during this period can avert malnutrition by ensuring that children have the best possible opportunity to grow, learn, and rise out of poverty. Head, Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Chris Osa Isokpunwu, in a presentation entitled “Nutrition Situation in Nigeria”, described a child’s nutritional status as the reflection of overall health and a cornerstone for survival, health and development.

“Malnutrition among Nigeria’s children is a serious problem throughout the country. Isokpunwu declared,  explaining that an undernourished child has lower resistance to infection and is more likely to die from illness. In addition to increasing mortality risk, poor nutrition in the first two years of life leads to stunted growth, which is irreversible and associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.

Although the global target is to reduce stunting by 40 percent and reduce and maintain wasting below 5 percent by the year 2025. Key indicators:

In an investigation of the three key indicators for monitoring the nutritional status of a child under 5 years of age –  underweight, stunting and wasting, data from the Summary of Findings of National Nutrition and Health Survey conducted from 9th February to 5th May, 2014, indicated that the country has a stunting prevalence of 32 percent among children under 5 years of age; while about 21 percent and 9 percent are underweight and wasted respectively.

“Almost 30 percent of Nigerian children are underweight, meaning they don’t weigh enough for their age. This is more than double the proportion of neighbouring Ghanaian children who are underweight.”

New Survey

Report of a new survey, titled  “Malnutrition: Nigeria’s Silent Crisis,” presents the reasons why proper nutrition for women and children is so important, especially in the first 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday. The survey notes as a sad  commentary that the rates of stunting in Nigeria have stagnated for more than a decade. About 2 in 5 Nigerian children are stunted, with rates of stunting varying throughout nationwide.

Among factors that contribute to Nigeria’s ongoing struggle with malnutrition include lack of adequate information by parents and caregivers who are not well-informed about appropriate feeding practices and have little understanding about the essential types and varieties of foods that children require to grow up healthy.

Investments:The publication prepared by the Nutrition Division, Department of Family Health, Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja, with assistance from the Population Reference Bureau, PRB,  also features the consequences of malnutrition, how investments in nutrition can improve health and economic outcomes, and which interventions are known to be most effective.

In general, the survey found that malnutrition prevalence in the North West and East regions are higher than in the South of the country. From the findings, the percentage of children in Nigeria who are wasted, or too thin for their height, has steadily increased over the last decade, rising from 11 percent in 2003 to 18 percent in 2013. At least 1 million Nigerian children under the age of 5 are affected by Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM, each year.

The children have severely low weight for their height and are at risk of dying unless given urgent attention. About 4 out of 5 Nigerian children do not meet the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life, while  70 percent of children ages 6 to 23 months are not receiving the minimum acceptable diet.