Government needs to step up its poverty eradication and wealth creation programmes

The grim picture of the state of malnutrition in the country was painted last week by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Using Jigawa State as a reference, the UNICEF Chief Nutritionist, Mr. Arjan De-Wagt, told the state governor, Muhammad Badaru Abubakar, that 600,000 out of 1.1 million children under the age of five in the state were stunted as a result of malnutrition. This is a report that should ginger the authorities to act quickly.

According to the chief nutritionist, who blamed the situation on poor exclusive breast feeding which is the most effective means of preventing malnutrition, about 32,000 of the malnourished children between the ages of six months and 59 months and some 165,000 other severely malnourished children in the state are likely to die this year if left without treatment.

A study by the nutrition division, family health department of Federal Ministry of Health revealed that with over 11 million stunted children, Nigeria is facing a crisis of malnutrition and ranks second behind India among all countries with the highest number of stunted children. The study further showed that each year, about one million Nigerian children die before their fifth birthday and malnutrition contributed to nearly half of these deaths. Meanwhile, almost 30 per cent of Nigerian children are underweight, meaning they don’t weigh enough for their age. This is more than double the number of children in Ghana who are underweight.

It is noteworthy that the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning earlier this year organised a one-day stakeholders dialogue on the Reviewed National Policy on Food and Nutrition, where the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the federal government was taking steps to address the issue. While we await the release of the reviewed policy, we urge governments at various levels to take urgent remedial measures to deal with this clearly unacceptable state of malnutrition in the country.

Since malnutrition arises largely from hunger, government needs to step up its poverty eradication and wealth creation programmes so that as more people have access to cash, they would be able to afford the nutritious food required for proper growth, particularly among children.

In the meantime, it would be necessary for government to raise awareness about the country’s silent crisis of malnutrition. Nigerians need to know about proper dieting and the value of breast feeding. From whichever angle one looks at the situation, it depicts a clear failure of government at practically all levels in our country. But now, we need a road map consisting of clear roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders, as well as implementable strategies, with milestones for mainstreaming nutrition into agriculture, fortifying basic foods with essential minerals or vitamins, mobilising communities for action on growing more beneficial foods, and the perils of malnutrition and not meeting any of the enumerated indicators.

For effective health and social protection, mothers must be encouraged to adopt exclusive breast feeding for their babies in the first six months of their lives. Thereafter, complementary feeding can be introduced for 24 months, then the consumption of various nutrients such as Vitamin A, iodized salt and zinc, among others.

Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger, in a country so blessed with arable land and natural resources. Unfortunately, both poverty and hunger continue to saturate our 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. Therefore, 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.