Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
In a move to save 11 million stunted children under the age of five, the World Bank has committed a sum of $350 million to fight chronic malnutrition in Nigeria for the next five years.
Presently, the country has a stunting rate of 31.5% in 2015, which is the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the second highest in the world. While nine of the North-east and North-west states have rates of child stunting that exceeds 50 per cent, which was well above the highest rates of malnutrition in countries in Africa.
Speaking at the high-level consultative meeting with States on accelerating nutrition result in Nigeria (ANRiN) project, World Bank Representative, Ms. Luc Laviollete, said the project was aimed at reducing child stunting, in order to improve learning ability, school performance and lifetime productivity of Nigerians.
She noted that the specific development objective was to expand utilisation of quality, cost effective nutrition services for women of reproductive age and children under two years in select areas in Nigeria.
â€œThe project would be financed through a $350 million loan from the World Bank. Additional technical assistance may be financed from other development partners, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Dangote Foundation and the Power of Nutrition.,â€ Laviollete added.
However, aside this, participating states are expected to commit N50 million counterparts funding for a period of five years.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said it is a well-established fact that as an underlying cause of death, malnutrition accounts for more than 50% of under-five mortality in Nigeria.
The minister who was represented by the Director, Family Health Department, Dr. Adebimpe Adebiyi noted that Nigeria loses about 2,300 children under-five year of age every day and malnutrition accounts for more than half of these deaths.
To this end, he said, it was therefore obvious that the country cannot be seriously think about reducing under- five mortality without addressing malnutrition.
The minister said there were massive economic and social consequences to the high rates of under nutrition in Nigeria, saying that billions in GDP are lost each year due to the pernicious cycle of undernutrition.
â€œAnnually, Nigeria loses over $1.5 billion in GDP to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Analysis by the Micronutrient Initiative shows that unless we take effective action to prevent and control Vitamin A deficiency, over 80,000 Nigerian children will die annuallyâ€
Having realised that the challenge indeed require urgent and immediate action, Adewole explained that the ministry working with some partners in 2014, developed a costed National Strategic plan of action for nutrition which provides guidance and innovation to the different levels of government to develop more in-depth implementation plans for nutrition intervention in Nigeria.
He stated: â€œevidence is there to show that investing in nutrition yields high returns. One dollar invested in interventions targeting stunting would bring about 10 dollars in economic benefits; one dollar invested in anemia prevention can yield up to 12 dollars, and one dollar invested in improving exclusive breastfeeding can yield as much as 35 dollars.
These global estimates are confirmed by recent country – specific analyses conducted by the World Bank for the government of Nigeria which show that scaling up the package of high- impact nutrition interventions in Nigeria would generate about $2.6 billion in economic benefits
â€œI am therefore pleased to inform you that my Ministry is preparing a national nutrition project that would be financed with approximately $350 million from the world Bank to enable implementation of National Strategic Plan of action for Nutrition. This project will finance some activities that are national in scope, e.g mass media campaign for behavioural change communication, as well as a complimentary set of activities to scale up community-based and clinical nutrition-related services in an initial set of 12 States.
This is a first phase of a national scale up. Over time, other States would eventually participate,â€ Adewole stressed.
Earlier, giving an overview of the nutrition situation in Nigeria, Dr. Chris Isokpunwu, said the money being committed to the fight by World Bank would avert over 3 million cases of child stunting, save over 180,000 childrenâ€™s lives and save 8.7 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).
He noted that while many donors are contributing to this agenda and estimates suggest that currently about $50 million are being spent each year by donors in Nigeria on these issues, while lamenting that actions are not coordinated and efficiencies of scale have not been , maximised yet.