Combating malnutrition in Nigeria

Nutrimilk-SuperkidTHAT over 1.7 million children in Nigeria are acutely malnourished, according to reports, is alarming but it is an understatement of the problem.

With mass poverty ravaging the nation, millions of families can hardly afford one good meal a day and vulnerable children bear the brunt of this abject poverty.

Indeed, the disturbing state of affairs is not too different from a war situation in which social and economic breakdown push people to the brink, making living a huge burden. This is an unacceptable state of affairs in Nigeria, a country blessed beyond imagination with food in abundance.

It is a good development that the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) have a scheme, Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), which was piloted in Gombe and Kebbi states in 2009 and has now been introduced in 11 northern states where malnutrition poses the greatest threat. The programme should also be expanded to the other states of the federation.

According to both institutions, CMAM treats acutely malnourished children from six months to five years old on an outpatient basis. More than 830,000 children have reportedly been cured under the programme, with a cure rate of 85 per cent. UNICEF Country Representative, Jean Gough, has appropriately stressed the need to scale up CMAM in Nigeria, given its proven high-impact capacity in saving the lives and helping children reach their full potential through a good start in life. His words: “We need greater investment in Nigeria’s future by investing in good nutrition,” cannot be more accurate.

That so many Nigerian children face this precarious situation is, of course, lamentable. The country is not only blessed with the land for cultivating the best food, it has reaped trillions from oil revenue that ought to be used to make life worth living for the people. The new governments, at all levels, have the challenge to change the economic fortunes and living standards of Nigerians, especially, children.

It is worthy of commendation that the government of Nigeria and UNICEF are jointly working on CMAM to tackle malnutrition among children, without which the situation could be worse. But with a frightening 1000 children reportedly dying in the country daily from malnutrition while the country also accounts for a tenth of the global one million mortality rate attributed to malnutrition, the situation remains dire and must change.

But while the authorities intensify efforts to find solution to the problem, it is important to stress that the battle against malnutrition should start from the home. Parents ought to have proper education on how to take proper care of their children. It is indeed regrettable that most mothers even in the face of poverty don’t seem to know how to combine cheap local foods to feed their children and make them healthy. There are different kinds of fruits and vegetables, fish and meat products that could be sourced locally and cheaply too.

Sadly too, lifestyles have changed for the worse and not many Nigerian homes have gardens and poultries from which adequate protein could be sourced for consumption particularly, in the urban areas, which is why the urban poor languish more in malnourishment. Mass poverty, no doubt, remains a major hindrance to life lived in abundance by Nigerians, a situation which compelled Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to moan the other day that over 100 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty.

Malnutrition or malnourishment is not having enough food to eat or not eating enough of the right foods. Although, it is a global problem affecting mostly the underdeveloped countries in Africa, Asia and South America, Nigeria has no reason to be one of such. Worldwide, some 40,000 children die every day from malnutrition and associated diseases as malnutrition exposes them to ailments that lead to death.

Once again, while it is the duty of government to see to the welfare of the citizenry, families should give adequate attention to their children and their feeding. There should be home gardens where vegetables are planted even in the urban areas. Education of course, is key. The Ministries of Health, particularly, at the state-level, should use local languages on all media platforms to sensitise people on how to give children balanced diet using nutrient-rich local foods.

Children are a nation’s future. And as UNICEF has articulated, there is need for greater investment in Nigeria’s future by investing in good nutrition.

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