Government should do more by addressing the issue of pervasive poverty
Unless Nigeria leaders take immediate steps to address hunger and malnutrition, especially in children and pregnant women, the poor indices on maternal and child mortality will only further worsen. That is the recent message from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, (FAO) Country Representative in Nigeria, Fred Kafeero, who urged the authorities to recognise that “over four million people go hungry and suffer from malnutrition in this country,” essentially “because of the challenges associated with conflict; pest and diseases, natural disasters, loss of biodiversity, habitat destruction; economic challenges (unemployment) and the devastating effects of COVID-19 still with us.”
Sadly, even though malnutrition is the underlying cause for a third of child mortality in the world, it is yet to receive any serious campaign and investment necessary to address it effectively in Nigeria. Nigeria faces the risk of a generation of stunted adults. Stunted growth implies a marked increase in the child’s susceptibility to infections and contributes to child mortality. Invariably, pregnant women who are not adequately nourished eventually give birth to babies with low weight thus putting their survival at risk. The costs of disregarding this issue in human and economic terms cannot be quantified.
According to experts, in low and middle-income countries like Nigeria, the age 3-24 months is a time when growth falters for too many children. An inadequate diet during this period increases the risk of stunting, micro-nutrient deficiencies, illnesses, and death. Some of the factors identified include poor infant feeding and attitude of mothers to exclusive breastfeeding. Political commitment at all levels is therefore necessary to ensure advocacy on the adverse implications of malnutrition and avoid its devastating consequences.
The FAO has called on the government to make targeted interventions on research in such a manner that will enhance technologically advanced farming. “In addition, our approach can only be effective if it is tooted in working together with governments, and key partners, as they forge their own national pathways towards transformation in line with their specific conditions and needs,” said Kafeero. “Functioning food systems will not only assure us of enough and quality food for each of us but also environmental sustainability, which is key for the development of the present and future generations.”
However, tackling malnutrition is not what government can do alone, other critical stakeholders need to join the efforts. Partnership with civil society and academic institutions with focus on food and nutrition is also an imperative while there should be a commitment to establishing a road map and coordinated mechanisms for implementing activities for up-scaling nutrition in the public sphere. This road map should consist of clear roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders, as well as implementable strategies, with milestones for mainstreaming nutrition into agriculture, fortifying basic foods with essential minerals or vitamins, mobilising communities for action on the growing of more beneficial foods, and the perils of malnutrition.
For effective health and social protection, mothers must also be encouraged to adopt exclusive breastfeeding habits for their babies for the first six months. Thereafter, complementary feeding can be introduced for 24 months, then the consumption of various nutrients such as Vitamin A, iodized salt, and zinc, amongst others. Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger, in a country blessed with arable land and natural resources.
From all available reports, the antidote to malnutrition is for children to eat healthy and balanced diet that include plenty of fruits and vegetables and other nutrients. Under the prevailing circumstance, government, at all levels, must sit up to address the crushing indices and causes of malnutrition that have continued to deprive over half of our children (and mothers) of a healthy and productive life span.