Monday comment1

Family planning is needed to tame the country’s population upsurge, writes Carl Umegboro

Africa is the second most populous continent with over one billion people. The greatest number of births in the continent takes place in Nigeria. In fact, a forecast at a point did project that by 2015 one fifth of the continent’s entire births would take place in Nigeria, accounting for five per cent of all global births. Presently, Nigeria’s population is over 180 million.

Most critical is the United Nations report which says that 48 per cent of Nigeria’s population is under the age of 15 – comparatively a country of the young. And notwithstanding the fact that the population of children under the age of five years currently stands at nearly 31 million, no less than seven million new-born babies are excitedly added yearly without considering the implications. Meanwhile, over two-thirds of the population lives below poverty line.

In human medicine, the human body essentially requires seven major types of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, protein, vitamins, and water. Unfortunately, numerous families rarely have good meals to meet up. On the other hand is high fraction that suffers malnutrition due to ignorance of dietary.

For instance, there are whole lots of natural, affordable foods and edibles that can boost nutrition but either unknown or ignored.  Archetypes are grasshoppers which according to research have 20 grammes of protein and just six grammes of fat per 100g while crickets are good sources of iron, zinc and calcium. Amazingly, grasshoppers contain way more protein than beef, with a whopping 72 per cent protein content including essential amino acids, and without saturated fat or cholesterol.

The most pathetic class is large poor families who due to ignorance have more children than necessary. Indisputably, unstructured pregnancies and births have continued to result in large families, regrettably, without commensurate livelihoods.

Instructively, nutrition or aliment, is the supply of materials; food required by organisms and cells to stay alive. Nutrition also focuses on how diseases can be prevented or reduced with a healthy diet and how certain diseases may be caused by dietary factors such as poor diet, food allergy and intolerances.

Remarkably, the use of the ‘Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic-Food’ (RUTF); initiative of UNICEF has turned out to be a fêted relief as evidently shown in checkmating child malnutrition albeit costly. This was attested by health conditions of children that were hitherto malnourished but administered accordingly in the critical areas of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States in the northeast.

Nonetheless, the crux of the matter is that despite these interventions from UNICEF with support from the Department for International Development (DFID) in providing succour to the critical areas, about 258,950 children, boys and girls, may suffer severe-acute-malnutrition (SAM) in the three states in 2020 according to nutrition sector annual projections. Reportedly, a budget of N5billion is needed for the procurement of 258,950 cartons for the number.

According to UNICEF-Nigeria, funding has been secured for merely 29,314 cartons of RUTF with a funding gap of N4.4billion for these unfortunate victims. Nutrition experts avowed that children suffering from SAM are four to eleven times more likely to die compared to their health counterparts. Altogether, an estimated 2.5million boys and girls under the age of five suffer from SAM yearly in Nigeria.

Statistically, the nutrition survey reported that the prevalence of global-acute-malnutrition (GAM) in children below five years is 11% in Borno, 13% in Yobe and 6% Adamawa, which indicates very high levels of malnutrition in Nigeria according to WHO (World Health Organisation) classification.

UNICEF on the other hand affirmed that one in every two-child deaths under the age of five is attributed to malnutrition. And if not timely identified and treated, malnutrition has serious and permanent consequences in the growth and development of children. Above all, it causes irreversible brain damage and compromised intellectual capacity in adulthood leading to reduced productivity which accounts for estimated 16% loss in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

 According to 2019 World Population Review (WPR), Nigeria’s population will hit 206 million by 2020, and 264 million by 2030 – crossing the 300 million threshold around 2036. In absolute terms, Nigeria is projected to add from 2031 to 2050 some 224 million babies (21 per cent of the births in Africa and eight per cent of all births in the world). Thus, Nigeria alone will possibly account for almost one tenth of all births in the world if not adeptly checked.

Understanding this demographic transition and conscientiously putting in place realistic interventionist policies will be helpful in securing a robust, thriving nation of our dreams. For instance, research had shown that in 16 African countries including Nigeria, less than 20 per cent of women of reproductive age are acquainted with contraceptive methods, hence producing babies without restraints.

Sensibly, an indisputable panacea is family-planning. By its ardent awareness, more women will practically have access to modern contraceptives, thereby reducing numbers of unintended pregnancy to the minimum.  In other words, promoting family-planning is a desideratum in addressing population upsurge. Similarly, sensitizations on diets and having small families to cater for will reduce child malnutrition to the bare minimum.

Umegboro participated in a recent UNICEF media-dialogue on child malnutrition, Maiduguri, Borno State