John Shiklam visited hospitals in Kaduna and reports on rising cases of malnutrition, blaming the malaise on poverty and lack of education
â€¨She looked frail and thin. But the condition of her one-year-old boy was worse. Skinny and pale with bulging eyes and an oversized head that seemed too heavy for his neck; his look betrayed his state.
Jumai (not real name) was the centre of attraction in the hospital because of her critical condition and it was quiet obvious that the condition of her baby was an embarrassment to her as well.
She made concerted efforts to hide away the little boy who frequently grabbed at her breast for milk as she sat on a bench in the Paediatric Department of the government owned Yusuf Dan-Tsoho Memorial General Hospital in Tudun Wada area of Kaduna metropolis.
The young lady who declined to speak with this reporter was among several other women who were waiting to see the doctor with their malnourished children.
The doctor’s waiting room in the hospital was crowded as women and their sick children squeezed into the room waiting their turn to see the doctor.
Some of the children this reporter observed were suffering from measles, but cases of malnutrition were predominant, according to the nurses who attended to them.
It was no different at the Badarawa Hospital, a private medical centre located in Badarawa area of Kaduna where this reporter encountered hundreds of young mothers who had gathered with malnourished children. Their pathetic situation had a striking semblance to that of children from war-raged countries when food becomes hard to come by.
The matron of the hospital, Hajiya A’isha Mohammed explained that malnutrition among children has become common in Kaduna with predominant case reported now at medical facilities around the state.
According to her, malnourished children constitute a larger percentage of cases in the hospital, just as some of the women who throng the hospital daily for medical help are so poor that they cannot even pay the hospital bills nor do they have the capacity to purchase the recommended foods and drugs.
“We have been trying to educate them on how to keep their children healthy, but I think poverty is also not helping matters, because many of them who come to the hospital cannot afford the little hospital charges, neither can they afford to buy the recommended foods and drugs that can provide immunity against malnutrition,” she said.
Officials at the Yusuf Dan-Tsoho Memorial General Hospital, who preferred not to be named, revealed that the cases of malnutrition and measles among children constitute about 60 per cent of reported illnesses at the paediatric ward.
According to a senior nurse in the ward who did not want her name in print, “Many of the cases we are handling here are cases of malnutrition. The children are not being properly fed and day-to-day we are faced with the situation you are seeing here.”
She added: “We have been educating them on the need to properly feed their children with the appropriate type of food when they come here but you know many of them are poor and not educated. Some of them are not even being properly taken care of by their husbands.”
However, some of the women who spoke with this reporter did not agree with the matron. Indeed, rather than admit that poor nutrition was responsible for the condition of their children, they insisted that the illness was an act of God.
Hajara Murtala, a mother of a two-year-old boy, Aminu, who was suffering from malnutrition and was on admission at the Yusuf Dan-Tsoho Hospital maintained that the condition of her child was from God.
“It is God who brought the sickness,” she said when asked whether she knows the cause of her child’s sickness.
She argued that her child’s sickness had nothing to do with lack of nutritious foods. She insisted that her family has enough food to feed on and that God can bring any type of sickness upon anybody at anytime, no matter the type of food the person eats.
Also responding to questions on the cause of her child’s malnourishment, A’isha Ibrahim, a mother of three- year-old boy, Salim, said it was God that brought the sickness on her child.
Nurses at the two hospitals said one of the challenges of addressing the issue of malnutrition among children has been that of proper education and enlightenment among mothers on the appropriate food that can improve the health of children.
One of the nurses at the Yusuf Dan-Toho Hospital said the paediatric ward of the hospital has been giving lectures to nursing mothers on the importance of nutrition, stressing that illiteracy and the prevailing economic situation in the country are not helping matters.
“Every day when they come here with their children, before we attend to them, we start with a lecture on how to avoid malnutrition among children. We tell them about the types of food to give children, but instead of the problem reducing it is increasing,” said the nurse.
Malnutrition, according to The World Food Programme (WFP) is “the sum total of the processes involved in the ingestion and utilisation of food substances by which growth, repair and maintenance of the body are accomplished."
The WFP further states: “Nutritious foods are those food items, including fruits and vegetables, which contain nutrients such as vitamins, protein, carbohydrates and minerals that are required to sustain the body and healthy living.”
Health analysts further note that malnutrition occurs when a child is not getting enough food or eating a balanced diet. Experts also explain that foods which contained nutrients must be given to a child in the first 1,000 days, including the period of its conception.
They call for dietary diversification for children to include exclusive breastfeeding for six months, complementary feeding for 24 months and consumption of some food nutrients such as Vitamin A, and iodised salt and zinc supplementation.
Studies have shown that there are many causes of malnutrition, but the most obvious is poverty.
Poverty causes malnutrition in two key ways: poor families simply cannot afford a nutritious diet. They have no money to buy food, especially nutritious foods that can improve health.
In Nigeria, where most families cannot afford two square meals, the result is the increasing cases of malnutrition.
A recent study carried out by the by the UK based ‘Save the Children’ organisation shows that about 1.1 million children in northern Nigeria are threatened by malnutrition, mainly due to poverty, illiteracy, insecurity and lack of access to portable water.
Maternal literacy also has a significant association with malnutrition in children. Investigations further revealed that most young mothers at the two hospitals visited have never been to school while some dropped out of primary school to get married.
Experts say improving the status of women and providing them with adequate education will in a long way help change the situation. They add it would facilitate information sharing on the importance of breastfeeding and the role of a healthy diet to the family becomes easier.