UNICEF

By Peter Duru, Makurdi

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, Monday disclosed that over 67 percent of women in Nigeria are anaemic.

The global organization cautioned that of the figure, those that could still have children might not come out alive if they get pregnant except something urgent was done to tackle the worrisome nutrition deficiency rate in the country.

UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Mrs. Ngozi Onuora who made the disclosure during a five day ‘Community of Practice workshop on Building Capacity to Mainstream Nutrition into the Investment Agenda, lamented the effect of malnutrition on the overall health and wellbeing of the mother and child.

While speaking on the objective of the workshop and the ‘Effective Management of First 1,000 days Window of Opportunity for Every Child – Strategic Preventive Option’, Mrs. Onuora noted that the issue of malnutrition was multilayered, emphasising that the nutrition of the mother and child in the first 1,000 days of the baby’s life starting from the first nine months in the womb and two years after birth remained critical to the wellbeing of the mother and child.

She stressed the importance of ensuring good nutrition for women of child bearing age and the expectant mother for the healthy development of the baby even at foetal stage.

According to her, “67 percent of women in Nigeria are anaemic. For the purpose of child bearing, you will need to build up her blood level otherwise she will die. She cannot survive that pregnancy; we must boost their blood.”

While also lamenting the rate of child malnutrition in the country, Mrs. Onuora said Nigeria had been rated first in Africa and second in the global malnutrition burden with 17 million undernourished children which posed a huge threat to the general wellbeing of the country.

She observed that the investments in the nutrition of infants, children and mothers would boost growth stressing that nutrition from the womb, infancy and early child was essential for child survival, growth, quality physical development and productivity.

“From the womb, infancy and early childhood, first 1,000 days are the critical window for growth and development,” she said.

In his presentation, titled ‘Conceptual Framework on Maternal and Child Nutrition, Expanded’, the National Coordinator Academic and Research Network, Scaling up Nutrition in Nigeria, Prof Kola Anigo pointed out that “nutrition is a critical part of human development.”

While listing some of the impact and consequences of malnutrition Prof. Anigo noted that “malnutrition creates significant threat to human existence.”

According to him, it is the reason for wastage, stunted growth, poor and impaired brain development in children as well as premature deaths.

He also pointed out that some adulthood diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer among others could be traceable to poor childhood nutrition which he attributed chiefly to household food insecurity, inadequate care and feeding practice, unhealthy household development and inadequate health facilities.

To address the challenge, he canvassed among others specific nutrition budgets and increased funding for nutrition. He also called for the approval and implementation of state multisectoral approach to tackle the challenge.

Also, Innocent Ifedilichukwu, the Advocacy, Campaign and Policy Manager, Save the Child, International and Chairman Steering Committee, Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, CSSUNN, who spoke on ‘Tracking Investments in Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition in Nigeria’ warned that Nigeria might not make desired progress until the knotty issue of malnutrition was adequately tackled headlong. “We must scale up nutrition.”

While canvassing dedicated interest in malnutrition and the danger it poses to the overall wellbeing of the country, Ifedilichukwu noted that interest plays a critical role in the actualisation of set objectives and vision.

He stressed that the fight against malnutrition would be won when all stakeholders were fully involved and carried along in the quest to eradicate it from the country.

He insisted that more needed to be done to convince those whose responsibility it was to make approvals and provisions to ensure that the battle against malnutrition was won.

According to him, the issue of nutrition must take the centre stage in the country as the political class resume campaigns ahead of the 2023 election “because it is key to the development of the country.”

Declaring the workshop open earlier, the Enugu State Commissioner for Budget and Planning, Dr. David Ugwunta who commended UNICEF for taking the lead in the advocacy for maternal and child health urged all participants to key into the objectives of the workshop in order to cascade same in their respective states.

On his part, the Executive Secretary of Enugu State Primary Healthcare Centre Development Agency, Dr. George Ugwu commended UNICEF for its tireless interventions in the state and other parts of the country. “I must say that we are impressed and pleased with the outcomes.”

While lamenting the impact insecurity was creating on the nutrition of mothers and children, Dr. Ugwu stated that there was no better time to aggressively tackle the issue of malnutrition in the country than now.

In a goodwill message, the Permanent Secretary, Benue State Planing Commission, Mr. David Leval who commended UNICEF for its far reaching interventions in the state stressed that the global organization “has encouraged us to move with determination to eradicate malnutrition from Benue state and we have taken the matter seriously.

“Hence food and nutrition have been treated as a special package in the next budget of the state. We must support, encourage and commend what UNICEF is doing because it has helped us to wake up to our responsibilities to ensure that we tackle the menace of malnutrition in our state.”

Present at the workshop are participants from the academia, government functionaries and nutrition specialists drawn from states including Enugu, Benue, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, Cross River, Delta, Kogi, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom.

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