December 3, 2022

MALNUTRITION: Nigeria may lose 876,000 children in 2023 — Stakeholders

A baby is tended to in an effort to stabilize him after he was admitted to a local hospital suffering from acute malnutrition The massive influx of people into Mogadishu and the rising number of cases of acute watery diarrhea in crowded urban areas places malnourished children at grave threat from cholera, which is a deadly and contagious disease,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said. AFP PHOTO

•2,400 children die daily in Nigeria —UNICEF

By Clifford Ndujihe

STAKEHOLDERS in the Health and Nutrition sector have tasked governments at all levels, wealthy individuals and organisations in the private sector on critical intervention to prevent no fewer than 876,000 children from dying from Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM, in one year.

The stakeholders spoke as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, said that 100 children die every hour in Nigeria with malnutrition as underlying factor. This means 2,400 deaths a day and 876,000 deaths a year. It also means that no fewer than 801,600 children died between January 1 and November 30, 2023.

This makes malnutrition a silent killer that kills more than any disease, insurgency and warfare. According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, malaria killed 602,000 people in Nigeria in 2021 while cancer claims 72,000 lives annually.

According to the stakeholders, who spoke at a National Council on Nutrition, NCN, roundtable in Lagos, “Malnutrition is a direct or underlying cause of 45 percent of all deaths of under-five children. Nigeria has the second highest burden of stunted children in the world and the highest in Africa, with a national prevalence rate of 33.3 percent of children under five. 11.6 per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-59 months are wasted (thin for their height), 25.3 per cent are underweight (thin for their age) and 1.5 per cent are overweight (heavy for their height).

“The prevalence of wasting in children below five years of age is 11.6 percent; translating into over 4.4 million wasted children under-five. An estimated two million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition but only two out of every 10 children affected are currently reached with treatment.

“Left untreated, children with severe acute malnutrition are nearly 12 times likely to die than a healthy child because one in 10 children in Nigeria die before their fifth birthday and malnutrition contributes to nearly half of these deaths.”

The stakeholders include Nemat Hajeebhoy of UNICEF Nigeria; Professor Kola Anigo, chairman, Technical Advisory Group, National Council on Nutrition, NCN; Mr. Jamil Abdullahi of the Ministry of Budget and Planning; and  Mr Ekene Ifedilichukwu, chairman Steering Committee of the Civil Society-Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, CS-SUNN.

Others are Dr R.O. Oyeleke of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development;  Mrs Adesanmi Abimbola, senior special assistant to the President on Nutrition, Office of the Vice President;  the Partnership for Improving Nigeria Nutrition System, PINNS; and Accelerating Nutrition Results in Nigeria, ANRIN.

Without urgent action, UNICEF estimated that 14.7 million children under-five will suffer from moderate and severe acute nutrition, this year. Currently, it said 13 million under-five children in Nigeria face moderate malnutrition while 1.7 million are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

UNICEF added that it takes only N8000 to prevent a child from becoming malnourished while it costs N57,000 to treat a malnourished child.

Currently, the world body said that in Nigeria, 11 million children under-five are stunted, four million are wasted, and 21 million are anaemic.

Stressing the need to prioritise nutrition, Mr. Ifedilichukwu said that every dollar invested in nutrition can generate $16 in return adding that investing in nutrition is one of the most cost-effective drivers of development and prosperity.

To avert severe acute malnutrition, UNICEF said the first 1000 days of a baby, from conception, offer a critical window of opportunity, which if misused the child may suffer irreversible malnourishment and stunted growth.

To maximise the first 1000 days, UNICEF identified three major stages – Pregnancy, 0-6 months, and 6-24 months.

During pregnancy, the UNICEF recommended nutrition counselling, weight gain tracking, multiple micronutrient supplementation, MMS, infection control, and intermittent presumptive treatment of malaria

Between 0-6 months of child birth, it recommended early initiation of breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding.

Between 6-24 months, the UNICEF recommended continued breastfeeding, complementary feeding, Vitamin A Supplementation, micronutrient powders/small quantity lipid based nutrient supplements, screening and treatment for acute malnutrition, zinc supplementation and diarrhea management.

Specifically, Ifedilichukwu noted that prioritising nutrition will increase school completion of children by one year; and raise adult wages by 5-50 per cent. He said children who escape stunting are 33 per cent more likely to escape poverty as adults; and reduction in stunting can increase Gross Domestic Product, GDP, by 3-16 percent in Africa.

Urging support for exclusive breast feeding of children for six months after birth, he said that optimal breast-feeding prevents 103,742 child deaths; averts 10 million cases of childhood diarrhea and pneumonia; generates N6.6 trillion additional income; saves N6.93 billion treatment cost; and eliminates N11 billion cost of breast milk substitutes.

Huge challenge

However, he said prioritising nutrition has remained a huge challenge in attaining improved outcomes for Nigeria because of lack of understanding of the issue; competing priorities; many political parties don’t have a manifesto on nutrition; and opposition to breastfeeding.

Indeed, Dr Oyeleke lamented that most households cannot afford sustainable nutrition.

According to him, one in three households in Nigeria cannot afford  N707 a day, which is the lowest cost nutritious diet and 34 per cent of households cannot afford N1,687 a day, which is for a moderate cost nutritious diet.

Way forward

To avert the looming disaster, the stakeholders among others suggested:

·Development and implementation of policies that increase access to food and income for the most vulnerable households; enacting food security  laws

·Increase budgetary allocation to health and nutrition interventions

·Timely allocation, release and utilisation of annual budget for nutrition

·Scale-up coverage of high-impact cost-effective maternal, infant and young child intervention to 80 percent coverage across the country, particularly in the first 1,000 days

·Fund and fully implement national multi-sectoral plan of action for food and nutrition

·Adopting improved maternity protection including six months of paid maternity leave and workplace interventions