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INSURGENCY: Malnutrition threatens future of children in N/E Nigeria

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By Sola Ogundipe & Chioma Obinna

The world is hungry. Currently, Nigeria is listed among the 10 hungriest nations in the world.  By 2030, the world intends to end hunger.  What will be Nigeria’s position on the hunger scale?

This is the question on the lips of concerned Nigerians and people of other nations. Nigeria’s population is crucial to global population. Currently, the world’s 7th most populous nation, Nigeria’s population is  estimated to hit 400 million  by 2050.

MALNUTRITION: Newborns and pregnant women most at risk.

The  2018  Goal Keepers Report released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, notes that by 2050, more than 40 per cent of the extremely poor people in the world would be living in  Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The report also showed that by 2050, 152 million Nigerians will be extremely poor,  and Nigeria will be home to  the highest number of extremely poor people in the world.

Aisha Buhari inaugurates Nomadic School in Maiduguri

One of the targets of the global targets in 2030 is to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition as well as promote sustainable agriculture.

By 2030, the world is also hoping to ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to  nutritious and sufficient food all year round and to be safe.

The world also hopes to  end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.

Sadly, today, 35 million children aged 5 and below in the north- eastern part of Nigeria are affected by Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM.

The insurgency and activities of Boko Haram within the region has drastically escalated the levels of malnutrition.

Recent statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, revealed that Global Acute Malnutrition, GAM, in the region has crossed the threshold for “serious”.

According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, classification for “serious” is for levels of combined moderate and acute malnutrition exceeding 10 in 100 children.

Worse still, the levels of malnutrition in three states in the North-East- Central Borno, Municipal Maiduguri, Jere;  South, Central and North of Yobe, have crossed the threshold.

It was also reported that Northern Yobe has a higher proportion of child malnutrition even as 14 in 100 children in the area weigh too little for their height while another 11 in 100 are too thin for their height.

Also, death among children under five years old is higher in Central Yobe, which is as high as 3 in 100 children.

Findings by UNICEF also showed that insurgency remains the major factor fuelling malnutrition in the region. Media reports also showed that  insurgency has destabilised farming and food security for households.

Today, infant and young child feeding has become suboptimal and this,  in turn, increased spread of endemic diseases like cholera that has worsened nutrition status of children in the region.

UNICEF’s Nutrition Consultant, Dr Davis Omotola, said insurgency remains the  main driver of  malnutrition in the North-East.

Speaking  in Yola during a two-day media dialogue on child nutrition in North-East Nigeria organised by  UNICEF, in collaboration with Child Rights Information Bureau, CRIB, of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and other partners, he said the development has resulted in high food insecurity, sub-optimal infant and young children feeding practices such as untargeted/uncontrolled infant formula distribution, negative coping strategies.

“Insurgency has also led to increasing spread of endemic diseases, limited dietary diversity, loss of livelihoods, disruption of access to quality water and optimal sanitation, population displacement and destruction of housing, compromising the privacy necessary for breastfeeding; and nutritional care, poor and deteriorating healthcare system and low coverage of programmes targeting children with moderate acute malnutrition,” Omotola noted.

Regretting that programmes targeting children with moderate acute malnutrition are inadequate, he said 1 in 2 children in the three states suffers chronic malnutrition, compared with 1 in 5 across the rest of the country.

UNICEF in its report also revealed that nearly 440,000 children need treatment for Severe Acute Malnutrition with ready-to-use therapeutic food and almost 44,000 of them have medical complications that first need to be treated.

Findings by Good Health Weekly showed that intervention funds earmarked for the region by federal and state governments combined dwindled  from $3.3 billion in 2016 to $3.1 billion.

Further, he disclosed that about 50 per cent of children in the 12 Northern states are stunted while only 20 per cent of children in the rest of the country are stunted.

Omotola regretted that despite the increasing challenges of malnutrition funds were not released early.

“For instance, nearly half of the funds released for 2017 were released in 2018. In 2016, $2.75 million was committed only $1.2 million was released.

“In 2017, a total of $5.5 million was committed, only $3.97 million was released. This year, $3 million was committed and only $0.02 million has been released so far.”

He therefore called for a change in policy implementation as studies have shown that for every dollar invested in reducing stunting among children in Africa, there is a return of investment of $16. He added that for economic and social change, investing in nutrition will save 33 per cent of children from poverty in adulthood.

Corroborating his views, UNICEF Nutrition Officer, Dr Martins Jackson  recounted efforts of UNICEF in collaboration with the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (UK-DFID) in tackling the menace in Borno and Yobe states, adding that no fewer than 1, 239, 802 children were given Vitamin ‘A’ supplementation in the two states.

Jackson said a total of 195,000 pregnant women were given Iron Fersolate to prevent them from anaemia and 32,000 mothers were given N5, 000 each on monthly basis as an incentive for exclusive breastfeeding and complimentary feeding.

“These interventions were geared toward improving nutritional security of under five children, pregnant and lactating women, as well as promoting nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life”.

However, as UNICEF report showed that in Nigeria, 1 in 5 children with Severe Acute Malnutrition cases would die if treatment is not provided, stakeholders worry that children with severe form of acute malnutrition has nine- fold risk of death compared to well-nourished children. They therefore urged Nigerians in the North-East to say no to violence and save the children from malnutrition and unfortunate deaths.

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