Saturday comment2

Thousands of children with severe acute malnutrition are dying in Kano, writes Abdulkadir Giginyu

There are many ugly fallouts of the recent political turbulence that overwhelmed the affairs of Kano State. But the most worrisome must be the unavoidable distraction of the state government from the routine functions of ensuring smooth delivery of good governance in the most important areas especially health – where smooth functioning of government often makes the difference between life and death.

Some of the most tragic consequences of such distraction of government focus in Kano State can be found in the health sector because the victims are usually dependants on government support and intervention such as children.  A case in point is the rapidly deteriorating condition of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), a situation arising from non-release of essential funding for the UNICEF-backed life-saving intervention programme tagged Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), since 2017.

Initially, it was hoped that the Kano State Government would do the needful by ensuring timely injection of funds already set aside in the 2018 budget for the RUTF before existing stocks got exhausted. But evidently the state government’s focus got blurred by the escalating political tensions triggered by electioneering and related issues.

Kano State Government has still not released any funds from the N150 million it committed to RUTF in the 2018 budget. Consequently, the situation is now urgent as RUTF has been out-of-stock in the state since February 2019. Some of the thousands of children with severe acute malnutrition are dying. Over 20,000 children in the state were treated for SAM in health facilities in 2018. The transition into another term of office has further jeopardized prospects for the required urgency in saving the endangered lives of children of poor peasants due to the absence of substantive office holders who can initiate rapid response.

In the circumstance, the future of this vital intervention programme in Kano State is also bleak, meaning many more children suffering from SAM are doomed. The non-release of funds for RUTF in 2018 by the Kano State government has already forfeited the state’s opportunity to receive N150 million in matching funds for RUTF from the British charity Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), an offer that was in place from 2016-2018 but has now ended.

UNICEF remains the main procurer of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a medicine which rehabilitates children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM); yet despite an increase in the volume of RUTF procured, most children suffering from acute malnutrition still remain untreated. Treatment was provided in 30 health centres across Kano State where there will be children with SAM in a terrible situation by now, possibly some have died because although the state formally committed to UNICEF to release N150m for RUTF in 2018, no fund was actually released.  This means that the UNICEF –supplied RUTF is not currently available at any health facility in Kano.

A recent tour of the worst-hit local governments in Kano State revealed the pathetic condition of affected children in desperate need of RUTF but visibly too emaciated to survive the indefinite waiting for the Kano State government to regain its focus on their plight which has also been by-passed by the media coverage that saved the situation in 2017 when bureaucratic delays threatened the delivery of RUTF. The peasant parents of the severely malnourished children are unable to provide succor due to their own limitations.  But they expressed emotional distress over the unresponsive attitude of the state government which had raised the hopes by initially facilitating the supplies of RUTF only to abruptly abandon the programme.

Health officials were more concerned about the imminent collapse of such a critical life-saving intervention ,coinciding with the stage where the state government should have been increasing its capacity to take over the programme from the UNICEF and CIFF, both of which expect government in affected areas to fully integrate community-based management of acute malnutrition into their health care programmes and depend less on external support.

The Kano State government was urged by the majority voiceless parents of the dying children to urgently release the funding required to resume supplies of RUTF, even as health officials advocate a robust intervention programme to develop an alternative recipe for the RUTF based on substitute or locally sourced ingredients, which will significantly increase coverage and guarantee sustainability of the intervention.

The ultimate appeal of the generality of citizens of Kano State since the outbreak of sporadic conflicts of interest, not just between rival political parties, but also pitching strategic tiers of government against each other, is that political leaders in the state should place their sworn oaths of placing their duty to serve the people above all else.  They should never lose sight of the millions of helpless commoners, like the thousands of child victims of severe acute malnourishment whose innocent lives depend on responsible governance. Save the dying children now!

 Giginyu, a Child Rights’ Advocate, wrote from Kano