…2.5m malnourished, 30% underweight, 90,000 near starvation, 6m under-5s stunted
By Gabriel Olawale
NoT less than 10 million Nigerian children or 13 per cent of the population of children in the country are at the risk of becoming mentally deformed in adulthood – no thanks to nutrient deprivation, particularly lack of iodine in the diet.
According to data from Countrymeters.info, as at the beginning of 2017, 40.9 per cent of the population was aged below 15 while the 15- 65 years bracket constituted 55.9 per cent and persons aged 65 and above accounted for 3.1 per cent.
In absolute figures, 77,599,973 of young Nigerians are under 15 years old (39,663,430 males and 37,938,439 females).
An average of 13 per cent of this figure which is approximately 10,087,996, is at risk.
Raising the alarm in Lagos, Emeritus professor of nutrition and former President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Professor Babatunde Oguntona, urged the Federal government to pay more attention to nutrition of children in the country and to scale up funding of malnutrition interventions.
Speaking in Lagos at a Nutrition Symposium on “Malnutrition, Child Development and the Media” organised by the Media Centre Against Child Malnutrition (MeCAM), Oguntona, fondly referred to as Father of Nutrition in Nigeria, said it could only be imagined the implication of having 13 per cent of mentally deformed children becoming parliamentarians.
“Inadequate iodine in our food is a serious threat. You can’t talk of development when you ignore the issue of nutrition status of your people.”
Oguntona warned that between 13 and 18 Nigerian children die of malnutrition and related diseases every hour and called on the media to step up advocacy on the issue.
School feeding programme: He identified the school feeding programme as one of the ways to make up for children that are marginally malnourished, “First we have a lot of children in this country who have escaped childhood period and carried over a lot of nutrient deficiency into their early school years.
“But they are able to continue and the longer they live, the more nutritional deficiency takes effect.
“So a country that is wise will catch them at the school level and try as much as possible to make up for that deficiency through adequate school meal.”
According to the nutriton scientist, the benefits of school meals is to provide critical nutrients that might be missing or missed in early years for the affected children and also help them to stay in school and benefit from schooling.
“It is only when you do that that you can produce children who will develop the country. If you don’t do that you are going to lose a lot of children to malnutrition and they will continue to carry it over till adulthood. Such adults cannot truly sustainably develop in a country.
“Another thing is brain power; a hungry child cannot concentrate. We may not be able to quantify the benefit of school meals in naira and kobo but the country would have benefited a lot and some of the children that would have succumbed to diseases would have been made immuned.”
Improper funding: Nigeria currently lacks proper funding to address the problem, noted Sunday Okoronkwo, a project manager at the Civil Society on Scaling Up Nutrition Nigeria (CS-SUNN), who said the actual number of stunted children in the country could most likely be higher than 11 million.
Okoronkwo, who represented the CS-SUNN project director, Mrs Beatrice Eluaka, lamented that the country’s $912m action plan on nutrition for 2014 through 2019 remains largely unfunded.
He noted that Nigeria’s $100 million counterpart funding of the policy is hardly captured in the annual federal budgets.
He said the 2017 federal budget has no provision for the plan which expires in 2019.
The National Coordinator of MeCAM in Nigeria, Mr. Remmy Nweke observed that tackling malnutrition early enough in life is the best proactive measure to have a future of people with sound health and feeding habits and that prospecting a nation with sound economy after all, a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.
“As you may be aware, the number of Nigerian malnourished children is a big chunk in the world which accounted for over 2.5 million who are suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) as at the end of July 2017, according to UNICEF.
This is exclusive of others who may be suffering from various forms of malnutrition, quoted at between 11,000,000 and 13,000,000.
Noting that Nigeria’s rates of severe wasting are among the world’s highest at around 1.9 million children each year, Nweke said 1 in 10 of all severely wasted children worldwide live in Nigeria.
“Its time we engage the populace and policy makers towards seeking improved attention for malnutrition and especially in children.
Top pro-nutrition civil society groups, including Community Health and Research Initiative (CHRI), Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network Nigeria and Global Alliance on Improved Nutrition (GAIN), attended the event.