The number of malnourished children is worryingly high. There’s urgent need to address the problem
The Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) Report, 2008, indicates that one out of every three Nigerian children under the age of five is stunted and suffering from chronic malnutrition. Stunted growth implies a marked increase in the child’s susceptibility to infections and contributes to child mortality. Invariably, pregnant women who are not adequately nourished eventually give birth to babies with low weight, thus putting their survival at risk.
Indeed, in the same Report, 53% of child mortalities in Nigeria have malnutrition as the underlying factor. Paradoxically, however, even though one- third of child mortality in the world is traced to malnutrition, it is yet to receive the nature of high-profile campaigns and investment necessary to address it effectively, in comparison with other causes of child mortality like malaria and HIV/AIDS. Consequently, while child mortality rate caused by malaria has shrunk by a third since 2000, child malnutrition rates have decreased by a mere 0.3% over the same period.
With less than three years to the 2015 deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), signs are out there that Nigeria may flounder in eradicating poverty and meeting those that relate to education and health, since they are largely dependent on adequate nutrition. Unless our governments, at all levels, take immediate steps to address hunger and malnutrition, especially in children and pregnant women, our poor indices on maternal and child mortality can only further worsen. Indeed, if concerted and deliberate action is not taken, an estimated two million more Nigerian children will be physically and mentally impaired, their lives ruined by malnutrition, over the next three years.
Political commitment is therefore necessary to ensure advocacy on the adverse implications of malnutrition and how to avoid its devastating consequences. Partnership with civil society and academic institutions with focus on food and nutrition is also an imperative. But such political commitment is best demonstrated by a tangible increase in resource allocation, with the relevant Ministries and Agencies establishing a road map and coordinated mechanisms for implementing activities for up-scaling nutrition in the public sphere. This road map should consist of clear roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders, as well as implementable strategies, for mainstreaming nutrition into agriculture, fortifying basic foods with essential minerals or vitamins, mobilising communities for action on the growing of more beneficial foods.
For effective health and social protection, mothers must be encouraged to adopt exclusive breastfeeding habits for their babies in the initial six months of their lives. Thereafter, complementary feeding can be introduced for 24 months, added with the consumption of various nutrients such as Vitamin A, iodized salt and zinc, amongst others.
Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger, considering our resources. Unfortunately, both poverty and hunger continue to haunt the country’s landscape. Hunger is both a cause and consequence of poverty, as people on low incomes tend to have worse diets, while people who lack adequate nutrition struggle harder to extricate themselves from poverty. It would be a tragedy if Nigeria fails to meet the MDG goals by 2015 on account of being unable to address the crushing indices and causes of malnutrition and related issues that have continued to deprive over half of our children (and mothers) of a healthy and productive life span. Our governments, at practically all levels, need to sit up and confront malnutrition with resolute decisiveness if the future of our children is to be secure.