Scaling up Malnutrition Intervention in the North-east

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Mohammed and his grandfather

At least 13 per cent of children below three years are severely malnourished in Yobe, 11 per cent in Borno and six per cent in Adamawa State. Martins Ifijeh writes on the need to scale up intervention in these states, as well as in the entire North-east region

This is not the best of times for children born in Boko Haram ravaged regions of the North-east. Malnutrition, poor shelter, loss of parents and siblings are some of the common features they have come to embrace. Their growth, education, healthcare, and cognitive prowess suffers. It is not the life they bargained for, but it has become their reality.

This was the case with three years old Mohammed Sherif, who few months after his birth in Dikwa Local Government Area of Borno State, lost both parents to Boko Haram attacks, leaving him most vulnerable to all things terrible.

“His parents were peasant farmers managing their lives until terrorists invaded the community where they lived; burnt down their house and took their lives. I couldn’t help but go there after everything had subsided to retrieve Mohammed,” said his grandfather, Abubakar Sherif, who spoke to THISDAY during a two-day media dialogue on Integrated and Timely Response to Nutrition-Related Humanitarian Needs, held in Maiduguri, Borno State capital recently.

But as an aged grandfather who is only a security guard receiving meager monthly sum, he couldn’t give Mohammed the deserved nutritional requirements needed for early childhood development. The 18 months old boy at the time could pass for a four-month old. He was too thin and small for his age. He couldn’t do tasks befitting of his age. All he does was grow thinner and weaker.

Mohammed was severely malnourished and was just few months or a year away before the condition makes an irreversible damage to his health and general development.

Scientific evidence has shown that beyond the age of two to three years, the effects of chronic malnutrition are irreversible; meaning that to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty and malnutrition, children at risk must be reached during their first two years of life. Fortunately, little Mohammed was rescued on time.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) during a routine intervention in his new home, Herwa community, identified him as having Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). He was placed on Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF); a specialised therapy for children severely malnourished. Within few months, Mohammed started to regain his body, and other early childhood development features.

Libabatu Ado is 16 months old, and presently on the RUTF treatment in Maiduguri. His parents had left their original community in Rann to get safe haven in Shuwran, a community near Maiduguri as part of plans to be safe from Boko Haram insurgents who had attacked Rann severally.

But their migration didn’t come with plans on how to address feeding for the family, hence Libabatu began to feel the consequences of starvation. He could not walk for his age or engage in the kind of play befitting of his age.

“We had to approach UNICEF in their intervention centre in Maiduguri, and they told me he was severely malnourished. I was given packs of RUTF which he is currently taking., and his health has started to bounce back. I have been told to continue using it until I am told to stop,” said Libabatu’s mother, Halimat, in a chat with THISDAY at the media dialogue in Maiduguri.

Mohammed and Libabatu are two lucky Nigerian children whose severe acute malnutrition level was quickly arrested, thanks to interventions from the UNICEF, the Department for International Development (DFID), as well as state governments in places of interventions.

Presently, over 2.5 million Nigerian children below three years are severely malnourished, while over 11 million children are stunted in the country; an unfortunate scenario that negatively affects the infant mortality rate of the country, as well as economic development and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nation.

The Nutrition Manager, UNICEF Maiduguri Office, Mr. Sanjay Kumar Das said Borno State alone has at least 370,000 children who are presently severely malnourished, adding that the situation in some parts of the North-east requires emergency intervention to address.

He said, “Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) in Borno is around 11 per cent. any GAM more than 10 per cent is referred to as been in emergency level. Urgent lifesaving interventions need to be scaled up. But if we compare the trend in the last three years, we can say it has improved. In 2018 we estimated 440,000 children with it, in 2019 we have estimated around 371,000. In 2020, we are estimating 259,000. UNICEF statistics showed that one out of two child deaths under the age of five is attributed to malnutrition in Nigeria.

“Malnutrition can decrease the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country by 16 per cent. Malnourished children are 11 times likely to die before their fifth birthday than children who are not malnourished. This is why we are calling on the state government to increase its funding to address the situation,” Das said.

He explained that severe malnutrition in the region was due to a number of factors, including social cultural practice where residents take to traditional help for malnutrition intervention rather than the use of RUTF, poverty, insecurity, as well as low awareness, adding that poor hygiene has also been fingered as one of the causes of malnutrition.

The nutrition sector estimates showed that in the three BAY states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, nutrition surveillance data indicate a slight improvement in the nutrition situation since the beginning of the response of the use of RUTF and other interventions, but the wide-spread insecurity, population displacement, poor food security situation, sub-optimal water, hygiene and sanitation practices and high disease burden continues to strain the on-going efforts to curb malnutrition in all its forms in the region.

According to the latest Nutrition Survey, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) among Boys and Girls aged below five years is 11 per cent in Borno, 13 per cent in Yobe and six per cent in Adamawa, indicating very high levels of malnutrition according to World Health Organisation Classification.

Addressing journalists at the two-day dialogue in Maiduguri, organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, in collaboration with UNICEF, a Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF, Aminu Usman explained that out of the £41 million support from the DFID, Borno will get £36 million and Yobe £5 million.

The money, he said would be used in carrying out projects in Borno from April 2019 to March 2022 while In Yobe the projects will run from April 2019 to March 2020.

According to the specialist, the projects were aimed at detecting emerging/deteriorating nutrition-related crises in Borno through an agile nutrition surveillance system and provide a timely response through the implementation of an integrated basic Nutrition package.

Also, UNICEF is expected to use the fund to improve maternal and young child nutrition DFID Supported Nutrition Project. He disclosed further that for 2019 overall Nutrition Response Progress in the BAY States, UNICEF targets 15, 102 for children six to 59 months for SAM but achieved 13,444.

Stating that new influx of IDPs was worsening the nutrition situation in Borno, he warned that the protracted access constraints have made the situation even worse in Rann (Kala Balge), South Yobe, Magumeri, Jere and Konduga Local Government Areas, adding that “If not timely identified and treated, malnutrition has serious and permanent consequences in the growth and development of children.