Reliable statistics indicate that acute malnutrition remains high in northern Nigeria with about 2.2 million out of 2.5 million children severely malnourished.
It was against this backdrop that Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a non-governmental organisation, convened a one-day legislative summit with legislators in affected five states.
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
Each year, about one million Nigerian children die before their birthday and malnutrition contributes to nearly half of these deaths. While malnutrition reduces the GDP of a nation, Nigeria records the highest-burden in Africa. The disease impedes physical growth and cognitive development of a child, with one in three Nigerian children experiencing nutrition deficit.
Constructive comparative analysis of malnutrition and under-development remain key to understanding the critical role adequate nutrition plays in the nation.
While Nigeriar ecognises the importance of adequate nutrition status to its development through the adoption of various policies on nutrition, policy neglect in the implementation process remains a serious setback.
The dreaded impacts of malnutrition include monumental economic and productivity losses, irreparable potential loss, increased susceptibility to communicable diseases and other infections.
With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Child Right Act, adequate nutrition status constitutes a Child Right in Nigeria.
More importantly, the existing ailing and under-funded Primary Health Care facilities across the country hampers efforts at achieving adequate and sustainable treatment and prevention of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) at all levels.
The consistent dwindling funding for nutrition in the national and state budgetary allocation is a serious concern that if not promptly addressed may exacerbate increasing cases of SAM with resultant child mortality in the country.
Worried by this trend, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), led by its Executive Director, Auwal Rafsanjani, organised a legislative summit on the Prevention and Treatment of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) for Speakers, chairmen of committees on Health and Appropriation, Clerks of Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano,and Kastina State Houses of Assembly, including state Nutrition Officers and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the states.
It was done because of the funding challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how to mitigate the challenge. The one day summit held at Bafra International Hotel, Kaduna State, on October 17, 2020, provided an opportunity for the stakeholders to ruminate on the way forward.
Among the dignitaries at the summit are, member, Board of CISLAC, Adesina Oke; Rafsanjani; Speaker, Gombe State House of Assembly, Abubakar Sadiq Ibrahim; Speaker, Kano,Abdulazeez Gafasa; and Deputy Chairman, Committee on Health, Kano State, Dr. MusaAli Kachako.
In his remarks, CISLAC boss said the summit became imperative because he was concerned about the available reports indicating that malnutrition remains high in northern Nigeria with about 2.2 million out of 2.5 million severely malnourished children from the region.
He said malnutrition impacts negatively on the socio-economic development of Nigeria, adding that sustainable development cannot be achieved in the country, especially at the sub-national levels without prioritised attention to nutrition investments .
Hence the need to involve all stakeholders particularly state legislatures.
“We find it worrisome that during the review exercise of the 2020 federal government budget as a response to COVID-19 impact, the N800 million that was initially allocated for the procurement of Ready-To-Use-Therapeutic-Food (RUTF) was expunged. We also note, with serious concern, that the one hundred and forty-six million, fourteen thousand naira (N146,014,000) allocated for the treatment of severe acute malnourished children in the proposed 2021 appropriation bill currently with the National Assembly is grossly inadequate to cater for the millions of children requiring treatment for Severe Acute Malnutrition in the country,” he said.
Having identified the problems, therefore, the summit provided a platform for legislators from the five target states to share experiences on their role towards sustainable and improved nutrition funding in their states.
It was also a platform to review the current efforts of their states at ensuring improved nutrition interventions.
Also, it was needed for the legislators to understand their states’ nutrition situation, to guide them in making commitments on how to ensure that Severe Acute Malnutrition prevention and treatment is properly focused and prioritised as a human rights issue through appropriate legislative interventions.
In their presentations at the forum, nutrition officers narrated how their respective states are trying to get rid of the ugly trend but also identified some of the challenges. For instance, Gombe State government has adopted different strategies to address SAM.
The state implemented various interventions and basic nutrition packages for women and children to access the services. To strengthen and ensure continuity of the nutrition activities, the state government was said to have approved N75 million for procurement of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods’ (RUTF) in the year 2020. N25 million was released to UNICEF and 1,159 cartons of RUTF were procured and distributed to implementing Local Government Areas (LGAs). The State Committee on Food andNutrition (SCFN) and LGAs Committee on Food and Nutrition (LCFN) were functional, with developed nutrition cost plan of action and nutrition policy,sign and approved.
An update on Kano nutrition in the last quarter also showed the distribution of deworming tablets for Adolescents Nutrition Programme across the 44 LGAs among others. And for Katsina, the nutrition situation is characterised by malnutrition with about one-third of the children less than five years stunted (more than half in the northwest).
In Bauchi, only UNICEFis providing support. While sentisisation programmes on radio and television are ongoing, the major problems identified to have been an impediment are inadequate information to caregivers on the differences between Polio Vaccine and Vitamin A and inadequate knowledge on complementary foods.
To CISLAC and its team, they believed problems identified are already solved , adding that it is essential to open critical deliberation on the challenge.
It is hoped that a result-oriented deliberation will be applied in support of legislative and policy processes towards sustainable prevention and treatment of SAM in Nigeria.
The speakers in their statements demonstrated commitment to do more towards improving budgetary allocations on nutrition. After deliberating exhaustively on various thematic issues, it was observed that the dreaded impacts of malnutrition include monumental economic and productivity losses, and increased susceptibility to communicable diseases and other infections.
It was noted that Nigeria is one of the countries responsible for 80 percent of global child malnutrition and the northwestern states bear the most burden of SAM in the country.
Furthermore, poverty, lack of awareness, funding and inadequate nutrition personnel emerged as the three most significant causes of malnutrition in all the five states.
RUTF usage was said to have been abused by mothers who use it as a means of livelihood at the expense of their children’s health while insecurity in some of the northern states constitutes a major challenge to SAM intervention programmes.
In their recommendations, the speakers said there is need for increased empathy, acknowledgement, regional consciousness, and ownership of the SAM issue by leaders at all levels of government.
They maintained that it would help achieve improved budgeting and release of funds for SAM in the states.