By Gabriel Olawale

When Aishat Alhazan, 19 went into labour in the middle of the night, she was rushed to the nearest health facility, sadly she did not live to see her baby or hear as the baby’s shrill cries filled the cramped labour room.

It was a prolonged labour, but Aishat, mother of two from Kwali Local Government Area of the FCT Abuja was deceased.

“Immediately she gave birth to her baby girl, she gave up the ghost. So we named the baby after her,” recounted Hasanna Tijani, Aisha’s paternal aunt.

Hasanna who spoke to Good Health Weekly at the Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition, CMAM Centre in Kwali Primary Healthcare Centre, PHC said little Aishat has been malnourished from birth because she was not breastfed by her mother and there was no other woman’s breastmilk she could latch on to.

*Pix showing: Zainab Abubakar with her twins, Habibat at the CMAM Centre in Kwali PHC, Abuja last week.

“I don’t have money for infant formula and I am already getting old so my breasts can no longer produce milk. So, we have nothing to give her than fura,” she said helplessly even as little Aishat cried continuously.

Hasanna added that aside the fact that the little Aishat was unable to do what a 10 months old baby should do, “she is too small for her age.  Ideally by now Aishat ought to sit down and crawl, but I still have to carry her on my laps on every occasion. They told us that the rash on her body is also due to malnutrition.”

Another case at the Kwali PHC was that of Habibat and Adizat Abubakar, 11 months old twin sisters. Rather than be a source of joy, they have become a source of sorrow to their mother, Zainab whoi is just 17. Unlike their contemporaries, they are making no attempt to walk around and struggling to sit.

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“Anytime I attempt to seat them, they fall over. I have to carry them on my laps. I don’t understand their situation any longer, so the leaders in our community ‘Wako’ advised us to take them to the hospital.

“At the Wako General Hospital, we were referred to Kwali PHC. Before their birth, I planned to comply with exclusive breastfeeding but my mother-in- law gave them water while bathing them.

“She also gives them pap after their bath. I have no authority to challenge my in-law, They are slowly dying” lamented Zainab, a petty trader.

The case of Adijat Nurudeen also comes into perspective. Her entrance into the Kwali General Hospital caused a stir. “Why are you people pushing me up and down? Do you want my only son to die?” she asked in tears.  She refused to be consoled. “He has not been eating, his temperature is too high, please help me,” she said repeatedly.

The Assistant Director at the Centre, Mrs. Elizabeth Dapki intervened. “His case is above our level here because he is seriously malnourished and our centre doesn’t manage such cases so we have to refer him back to the General Hospital where they have equipment to manage his case.

Dapki said in the whole of Kwali Local Government Area, the centre is the only one attending to malnourished children at PHC level.

“We have recorded deaths in this local government before this centre was set up in April this year and between then and now we have managed 55 seriously malnourished children.

“Two deaths were recorded in Wakko area before this center was set up. Most of them present when their situation is getting worse, and some cases are due to ignorance because there is local food that is nourishing. Their major problem is how to combine the foods.

A Community Health Worker, Annatu Musa, said many of the children are severely malnourished and suffer from diarrhoea and malaria with rashes on their body. Annatu noted that during her interaction with some of the mothers she noticed that poverty fuels their predicament.

“Most of them said feeding is their major challenge at home. Most mothers are idle at home. For example many women from Gada Bue complained that their husbands don’t allow them to work.

Such is the plight of infants and children in most parts of the country. According to UNICEF, An estimated 2.5 million Nigerian children under the age of five suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) every year – an extremely dangerous condition that makes children nine times more likely to die from common childhood illnesses such as such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. Every year, nearly 420,000 children under five die as a result of this deadly combination in Nigeria.  One in 10 severely wasted children live in Nigeria, according to UNICEF.

Reacting to the development, Programme Manager, Civil Society Scaling-Up Nutrition in Nigeria, Sunday Okoronkwo said malnutrition requires government’s special attention and need to prioritize issue around the first 1000 days of life, and fund campaign for exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life.

“Colostrum is a must for the child, it is the first vaccine a child gets and gives protection against disease. Government needs to understand that N100, 000 invested in nutrition can bring returns of 2.5 million.

“By investing in nutrition, Nigeria will attain SDG 4 (quality education) because adequate nutrition drives up IQ level. Rate of malnutrition in the country can be reduce by implementing IYCF program specific amount of funds should be dedicated to support IYCF program from LGA monthly allowance.

“Micro nutrient supplementation is integral to reducing malnutrition in the country because it is realistic and affordable. ”

An Associate Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, University of Ibadan, Dr. Rasaki Sanusi, warned that lack of good nutritional intake for pregnant women and in the first 1000 days of life for a child, tends to have lasting negative impact on development of the child.

Sanusi said inadequate nutrition intake would not only affect the health of the child, but place such child at disadvantage.

He said any effort to correct such abnormality in future would amount to applying the brake after an accident.

“Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, impaired physical and mental development and reduced productivity, such child will fall sick more often than normal and their ability to learn will be reduced.”

The nutritionist said it has been estimated that 50 percent of mobility in children can be linked to malnutrition which means that children and infants are dying, half wouldn’t have died but for malnutrition.

Exclusive Breastfeeding, EBF, prevents malnutrition, and the six-month leave policy is a step in the right direction towards promoting EBF.

During the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole said the Ministry of Health was working closely with the Ministry of Labour to extend maternity leave in Nigeria from four to six months as a way of Nigeria’s EBF rates which will contribute to a reduction in malnutrition.

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