UNICEF: 400,000 Children Under-five Threatened by Severe Malnutrition in N’East

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Says Nigeria has second highest child, maternal mortality rate in the world

Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

The United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) has raised an alarm that an estimated 400,000 children under five of age will suffer from acute malnutrition in North-eastern Nigeria due to the ongoing Boko Haram crisis.
In other to arrest this ugly trend, UNICEF has upped its humanitarian appeal for Nigeria by US$60 million.

In a statement yesterday, UNICEF said it needed to more than double its funding appeal to provide life-saving assistance for children in North-east Nigeria.
It stated that it has revised its humanitarian appeal for Nigeria from US$55 million to US$ 115 million to assist an additional 750,000 people who can now be reached across conflict-affected areas in the northeast of the country.

The statement read that: “As new areas open up to humanitarian assistance, the true scale of the Boko Haram related crisis and its impact on children is being revealed.
“An estimated 400,000 children under five will suffer from severe acute malnutrition in three states across the northeast this year.

More than four million people are facing severe food shortages and 65,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, mostly in Borno, the worst affected state.
“Children’s lives are literally hanging by a thread,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes.

“We are reaching new areas to provide critical humanitarian assistance but we need greater international support to further scale up and reach all children in dire need,” she added.
In a related development, UNICEF yesterday released a grim statistics on the health sector in Nigeria, revealing that the country ranked among the highest in under-five deaths and maternal mortality in the world.

In a communique released at the end of a two-day nutrition summit which was attended by participants from Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Rivers States, the organisation noted that at least 2,300 children under the age of five in Nigeria, were lost to malnutrition everyday.

The communique jointly signed by the participants, including the Communication Officer, Advocacy Media and External Relations, UNICEF, Ijeoma Onuoha-Ogwe,  noted that more than 145 women of child-bearing age die from the malaise daily, making the country the second highest in terms maternal mortality.

The meeting aimed at creating awareness on the nutrition situation in the South-south, UNICEF said, was also meant to put pressure on government at all levels to prioritise nutrition in their development agenda.

According to the world body, thousands of children are currently severely malnourished in Nigeria and would require several millions of dollars to scale up nutrition for those affected.
“Nigeria loses 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age, accounting for the country being second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world.

“The percentage rate of stunting, wasting and underweight in the South-south states are 20.0, 5.3, and 12.3, respectively; above the WHO recommended threshold;

“Malnourished children in the zone (South-south) are 140,000. Participants observed that 11,000 children in Rivers State are severely malnourished while the cost of scaling up nutrition in the zone is about $46.7million,” the UNICEF noted.

The United Nations-sponsored organisation noted that for the menace to end,  strong political will is imperative in solving policy and financial challenges related to malnutrition.
It recommended that government at all levels should take leadership seriously in strengthening and developing high quality, validated and costed nutrition plans across sectors and mobilise domestic resource for them.

“Government at all levels should provide enabling policy environment and proper nutrition legislation to address nutrition challenges in the zone.
“Ministry of Budget, Planning and Economic Development should take the lead in the coordination and leveraging of resources for the funding of nutrition activities at all tiers of government.

“Increased production of nutritious foods with regard to food groups which the region has comparative advantage in production and schools curriculum at all levels and disciplines to be expanded to include nutrition specific strategies to solving problems of malnutrition in the region”, the communique added.

It also called for the strengthening of States’ Committees on Food and Nutrition with adequate budgetary allocation and releases to enable them coordinate and carry out oversight functions on all nutrition programmes and activities in the respective States in the region.

Also as part of its recommendations, it urged the state governments within the zone to create nutrition desks in the different line MDAs and strengthen reproductive health campaign (Family Planning) in order to check bloated population growth.

The statement further read: “The destruction of whole towns and villages further complicates the response. Sixty per cent of health clinics have been partially or completely destroyed and 75 per cent of water and sanitation facilities require rehabilitation in Borno State.
“Nearly one million children are now displaced across the northeast, a million are out of school and hundreds of thousands psychologically affected from the horrors they have lived through.

“The conflict-related lack of access to children has also lead to an outbreak of polio in Borno State, where three cases of wild polio virus were confirmed in August and September. UNICEF’s funding appeal comes as a series of massive coordinated emergency polio immunisation and nutrition campaigns in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring countries is underway, targeting 1.8 million children in Borno state alone. The immunisation campaign is also identifying and treating children with severe malnutrition,” the statement further revealed.

The statement explained that: “UNICEF has increased its response in the areas worst-affected by the Boko Haram conflict since April, supporting basic health care and nutrition for children and mothers, and helping provide safe water and sanitation, child protection services and learning opportunities.

“Since the beginning of 2016, 2.6 million conflicted-affected people have been given access to UNICEF-supported preventative healthcare services and nearly 75,000 children have been treated for severe acute malnutrition in northeast Nigeria. The construction and rehabilitation of boreholes has provided nearly half a million people with improved access to safe water. Safe learning spaces, teacher training and educational supplies have helped over 72,000 children to restart their education and some 133,000 children have been provided with psychosocial support.”

The statement however disclosed that: “To date, just US$ 28 million of the US$ 115 million appeal has been received and this presents a serious obstacle to UNICEF’s scale up plan.”