By Gabriel Ewepu and Olaoluwa Enoch – Abuja

Following report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation, WHO, Tuesday, ranking Nigeria first in Africa and second in the world among countries with the worst malnutrition cases, Civil Society Organizations, said it is shameful and unacceptable.

Speaking with Vanguard the Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Ene Obi, said the  Nigerian Government needs to pay more attention to feeding of children in Nigeria.

Obi said: “It is highly disappointing for Nigeria to be ranked world’s highest in malnutrition crisis.

“The report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, and World Health Organisation, World Health Organisation, WHO, is not strange but is challenging.

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“When I was working with Public Health for about 10 years, and I knew when we used to work with the National Planning Commission when we discovered that many studies showed that Nigeria had its population 40 per cent with stunted growth.

“This was so challenging and that brought the idea of working with Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development when we had multi-sectorial ministries then we started talking about home-grown school feeding to increase the nutritional level of primary school children.

“It is not strange to find this now that the state is so deplorable because when you have half of your population living below the poverty line and people are not talking about nutrition, and at that we don’t have so many people living below the poverty line but now many people are faced with the survival challenge.

“The Nigerian Government needs to pay more attention to feeding of children in Nigeria.”

She also counseled government, “To concentrate on feeding at the school level, and that school level there were challenges because State Governments supposed to do something to at least feed children from primary 4-6, and many of them never did it.”

According to her, “We had cases where children in primary 3 were to be promoted to primary 4 but they didn’t do it because they will feed them, and it was a division between the federal and state governments.

“The federal government supposed to feed those from primary 1-3 and those in primary 4-6 to be fed by state government but those in primary 4-6 were left to go home hungry.

“I think we need to have a quality population and quality of population is what we get at the end of the day because these children become adults.

“It is a very disappointing report but that is what we are living in and you are faced with it.”

She called on the government to do all it can to tackle insecurity which has largely contributed to the malnutrition crisis in order for people to return home and agricultural activities come alive again to tackle the worsening malnutrition crisis millions of Nigerians find themselves.

Meanwhile, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, SWEER Global Farms, Dr Thaddaeus Thompson, described the UNICEF and WHO report on Nigeria’s malnutrition ranking as shame on wealthy Nigerians.

“Nigerians are in disbelief that their country was declared the poorest in Africa, competing with Burundi, the country that once occupied the slot.

“The question that arises is how this can be possible in a country that boast it produces one of the highest numbers of PhD students and PhD holders in the world?

“How can this be possible? Nigeria’s Agricultural sector (25.08% of GDP), Trade sector (16.86% of GDP,) and the Real Estate sector (6.85%) dominate its economy.

“Nigeria also recorded a significant growth in the financial services, communications, and entertainment sectors.

“Nigeria’s role in Africa is a declaration to promote the unity and solidarity of the African states and coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to achieve a better life for the people of Africa, including Nigerians.

“The country’s Nominal GDP, as reported in 2022 was 510.588 Billion US$, and its role as Africa’s largest economy is unchallenged.

“Nigeria’s manufacturing sector has reemerged and became the largest on the continent in 2013 and the largest producer of goods and services in the region of West Africa.

“When all these positives are considered, one wonders how we became the poorest. In between these facts lie the answers.

“Any country having such a robust scorecard should not be the poorest, but we are.

“All wealthy Nigerians should be ashamed of the status of their country because the dehumanising effects of being addressed the poorest nation affects us all”, Thompson said.

Also reacting was the Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria, Evelyn Mere, said there is urgent need to integrate Water Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, and Nutrition in changing the narrative of malnutrition in Nigeria.

According to Mere, the three main underlying causes of undernutrition are unsuitable or insufficient food intake, poor care practices and disease – these are directly or indirectly related to inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

“Undernutrition remains a significant public health threat that requires both WASH and nutrition interventions; Inadequate WASH conditions and behaviours facilitate ingestion of fecal pathogens which lead to diarrhea, intestinal worms and inhibits a child’s ability to absorb nutrients. 

She also pointed that historically, large population-level reductions in diarrhea and stunting have not been achieved without WASH2.

However, she highlighted on what should be done to change the narrative.

“Broader integrated development strategies are needed across key sectors, such as WASH, health, nutrition, education and housing, which are all fundamental in underpinning wider societal and economic development and, consequentially, healthy and productive populations. These will change the narrative.Rationale for WASH and nutrition integration

“Unhygienic living and learning environments (kitchens, feeding bays, toilets, households and CBCC surroundings) Poor hygiene practices (caregivers), poor child feeding practices contributing to inadequate dietary intake.

“Limited access to safe water and sanitation facilities.

“Weak capacity for WASH & Nutrition integrated planning, implementation and reporting at national, district and community levels Limited learning and information sharing on WASH and Nutrition.

“Proposed Approaches to WASH and Nutrition integration; A combination of Nutrition sensitive and nutrition specific interventions is required to ensure a holistic contribution to improved outcomes for children and vulnerable populations.

“Effective targeting of WASH and nutrition services for better impact in areas of high malnutrition prevalence requires good information systems, aligned sector action plans and strong stakeholder coordination which is not always assured especially at local government level.

“More comprehensive WASH interventions are required to increase service levels across communities for multiple exposure pathways to achieve clean environments for improved health/nutrition outcomes.

“Effective targeting of WASH and nutrition services for better impact in areas of high malnutrition prevalence.

“Construction of improved WASH sanitation facilities in schools and health centres as well as surrounding communities

“Integration of hygiene behavior change into nutrition programming: promote key behaviours including handwashing with soap, food hygiene, and safe excreta disposal targeting lactating mothers”, she stated.

She also added that, “Joint planning and increased cross-collaboration between nutrition and WASH actors

“Developing capacity: Find opportunities for bringing nutrition and WASH actors together to build knowledge and understanding

“Key actions to be taken National policies and plans (WASH and nutrition) must prioritise multi-sectoral approach and coordinate with each other; 3-5 priority integration action/investment areas; and Clear roles and responsibilities – identify Focal Points in each relevant line ministry

“Leadership: high level government leadership required to establish cross-ministry coordination

“Develop core indicators on WASH-Nutrition to be used by all line ministries and NGOs

“Invest in mapping ‘hotspots’ of malnutrition and improving quality and timeliness of localized data

“Ministry of Finance must be involved in cross-ministerial coordination to ensure ministries are allocated budget to prioritize integrated actions in WASH and nutrition

“Invest in capacity-building of Provincial and District authorities and local coordination mechanisms.”

She also assured that WaterAid supports the notion of more comprehensive interventions for transformative WASH.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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