Investment on Child Nutrition in Northeast: What Nigeria Stands to Gain
By Alex Uangbaoje
Recently a report by Brookings Institution rated Nigeria as the poorest country globally, thereby becoming the poverty headquarters in the world, ahead of India.
This has generated heated debates between citizens and government considering the huge amount of resources; both natural, mineral and human resources domicile in Nigeria.
Evidence has shown that despite the huge earnings in crude oil and other revenues, which has seen the country rated by different organizations as the wealthiest and the fastest growing economy in Africa, more than half of the country’s citizens are still living below the poverty line, and northern Nigeria suffers the world’s third highest level of chronic undernutrition among children, which has greatly affected productivity in the region and country in general.
This silent crisis, according various reports is caused by lack of access to safe water and sanitation, rising food insecurity, the disruption of basic services due to conflicts, and poor knowledge of healthy feeding practices for infants and young children.
The North Eastern part of the country has been ravaged by insurgency, this has negatively impacted the livelihood of the people in the area, especially children’s education, hence the need for government to invest on child nutrition.
A pathbreaking study conducted by ‘Save the Children’ in the 90s in four developing countries namely, India, Vietnam, Peru and Ethiopia, found that at eight years old, children suffering from chronic malnutrition are 19 per cent more likely to find it difficult to read simple sentences like ‘I like dogs’ or ‘The sun is hot.’
The study further shown that, stunted children are 12.5 per cent more likely to make a mistake writing a simple sentence and are 7 per cent more likely to make mistakes while responding to simple math sums like eight minus three.
It is well known the malnutrition impacts the physical growth of children, not just learning abilities, the study also puts an economic cost to the impact malnutrition has on children’s future capabilities. The study says that when today’s malnourished children become part of tomorrow’s working population, it impacts their earning potential.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), recently put the figure of severe and acutely malnourished children in the Northeast at over 900,000 children in three northeastern states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno.
Speaking at a media dialogue on child malnutrition with a theme: “Investing in Child Malnutrition for Future”, organized by UNICEF and Child Rights Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, a nutrition expert, Dr. Bamidele Omotola, opined that investing in children’s nutrition will offers Nigeria and Africa some of the greatest opportunities for social and economic change.
Dr. Omotola, noted that every single dollar invested in reducing stunting among children in Africa, there’s a return on investment of $16 which is capable of bringing Africa and Nigeria in particular out of poverty.
The UNICEF nutrition consultant, added that, about 33 per cent of Nigerians will get out of extreme poverty if the country successfully tackles malnutrition.
“If Nigeria overcomes the menace of malnutrition, 33 per cent of poor people will get out of extreme poverty and give their own children a better chance at life.” Dr. Omotola added.
He emphasized that malnourished children have zero potential to contribute to any country’s economy, adding that, fight against malnutrition has become imperative for Nigeria because any economy where 50 per cent of the children are stunted or wasted is doomed.
The nutrition expert, warned that children with severe form of acute malnutrition has nine fold risk of death compared to well nourished children. He said one in five children with severe acute malnutrition cases would die if treatment is not provided at right time.
He therefore called for investment to ensure food security to end extreme hunger by 2030, the second goal of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Worried by the dearths of malnutrition in the country, a child rights expert at the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC), Mr. Olumide Osanyinpeju, called for a concerted effort in fight against malnutrition in Nigeria, especially in the North Eastern part of Nigeria.
He noted that there is need for investing in child malnutrition for the future, raising awareness and understanding on the problem of malnutrition in Nigeria and resource allocation for food and nutrition security at all levels.
According to him, “it is imperative to combat Malnutrition, because it can cause death in young children, particularly those under five years of age. There should be concerted effort to fight malnutrition out in totality to ensure the attainment of desired results.
“Malnutrition is a large burden to a country, and tackling malnutrition entails empowering and educating people. Improved nutrition is the key to improved national and human development and this can be done by educating the populace and creating a positive approach towards nutrition.
“Addressing nutrition is one of the ways through which sustainable development goals can be achieved, therefore investment in nutrition will help reduce the negative trend of malnutrition which has been ensured by the creation of this dialogue.”
Speaking about UNICEF efforts at curbing the malnutrition menace, Dr. Martins Jackson, Nutrition Officer, UNICEF Bauchi Field Office, disclosed that, UNICEF, has reached, 1, 239, 802 children of age 5-59 months with vitamin A supplement, through the Integrated Basic Nutrition Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Borno and Yobe including multsectorial pilot (INP+) projects supported by DFID since July 2017 til date.
“195, 000 pregnant women with Iron/Folate supplement, 38,700 children with acute malnutrition admitted for treatment. While 32,300 pregnant women received N5000 monthly and 6,500 community members were reached with Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), activities in pilot LGAs of; Maiduguri Municipal Council, Jere, Konduga, Bayo, Biu, Kwaya Kasu, Shani, Askira Uba and Hawul in Borno state.
“And also Tarmua, Gujba and Nangere in Yobe State respectively.
“DFID contribution, also procured a bit more than 200,000 carton of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) enough to covers 240,000 children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).” Added.