UNICEF: 22% of Children under Five in South-west Suffer Stunted Growth

  •   13.2% children in Oyo State are underweight
  •   About 200,000 Osun children stunted due to malnutrition

James Sowole in Akure, Yinka Kolawole in Osogbo, Martins Ifijeh

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recently raised fresh concerns over the prevalence and effect of malnutrition in the South-west geo-political zone of the country, stating that 22 per cent of children under five years in the zone have stunted growth.

The UNICEF Communication Specialist, Mr. Geoffrey Njoku, gave the figure in an opening remark at a media dialogue organised by the UNICEF for select journalists in some states of the federation, adding that it was erroneous to believe that malnutrition was prevalent only in the North.

Quoting a 2013 survey, Njoku said studies had shown that malnutrition was prevalent among children of the rich people of the South-west under the age of five, saying malnutrition was a national problem and harped finding sharing responsibilities on investing in simple cost interventions.

Njoku, who narrated his Owerri hometown experience in the South Eastern part, Imo State, revealed that 13 per cent of children born to rich families also suffer malnutrition in the geo-political zone.

A resource person from the Federal Ministry of Health, Mrs. Ogunbumi Omotayo, noted that “Nigeria has the highest number of stunted children under age five in sub-Saharan Africa and second highest in the world with 37 per cent of all children stunted, 18 per cent wasting and 29 per cent underweight.”

She explained further that infant mortality rate was 69/100 live births, and children under five years have 128/1000 live births, while only 17 per cent were exclusively breast fed.

Mrs. Ada Ezeogu, the UNICEF Nutrition Specialist lamented that the Nigeria Nutrition Indices (2013) disclosed that only 17 per cent of Nigerians engage in Exclusive Breast Feeding (EBF), which is far below 50 per cent international standard requirement.

Ezeogu affirmed that malnutrition was not all about food but inadequate care, knowledge, food insecurity, unsanitary environment and other factors, which are highly manifest in the six states of the region.

She identified overnutrition, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency as the burdens of malnutrition in the country, urging more emphasis on the 1000 days from period of conception to when the child attains two years.

The nutritionist, however, said the South-west was noted for good compliance with the six months on EBF, but pointed out that it fails in the complementary feeding that follows immediately after the six months EBF.

Ezeogu emphasised that if the 50 per cent EBF international standard was adhered to, killer diseases in children will be reduced by 50 per cent. She canvassed for policy, coordination and partnership to promote EBF in the region and nation at large.

Also, the Nutrition Officer, Ministry of Health, Oyo State, Dr. Khadijah Alarape revealed that 13.2 per cent of children in the State were underweight, a percentage she said was a significant improvement from the previous 17.7 per cent two years ago.

She said the national percentage of underweight children in the country was about 19.4 per cent, adding that, apart from underweight, stunting among children in the State was 20.5 per cent, while wasting was 7.3 per cent, advised Nigerian mothers to give their children exclusive breast milk for six months, while breastfeeding continues for the first 1000 days of the infant’s life.

She called on mothers to give their babies breast milk within the first 30 minutes of life, an approach she said was very important to the survival and health of the child. “Women should not throw away the first breast milk after childbirth. Colostrum is rich in immunity and it has a long way in helping the child’s survival,” she added.

She said to improve further the nutritional life of pregnant mothers and infants, the state has embarked on a number of interventions. “We have nutritional development centres in Oyo State where soya milk production has been subsidised drastically for women to give to their babies. This has been known to help mitigate the impact of malnutrition in the state and we have a lot of testimonies on that.”

In the same vein, a nutrition specialist with UNICEF, Mrs Ada Ezeogu, said 195,245 children below five years were stunted in Osun state due to malnutrition .

Urging the state government to pay attention to early child care that would cover children below three years in addition to its school feeding programme in the state, she said 21.8 per-cent of children in Osun were stunted and that the situation may improve if the early child care was included in the school feeding programme.

Mrs. Ezeogu, who spoke at the parley on ‘Good Nutrition, Invest More’, said the figure stated was generated from National Nutrition and Health Survey 2015.

She commended Osun State Governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola for the school feeding programme in the state and urged him to take proactive measures in addressing the current situation, saying that the current 21.8 per-cent malnutrition level in the state was not acceptable.

She contended that over 50 per-cent of infant death in the country occurred as a result of malnutrition and called on government and stakeholders to address the situation and prevent avoidable infant deaths.