Latest Headlines



 Government and other stakeholders could do more to secure the future of our children

Five United Nations agencies recently called for urgent action to protect the most vulnerable in an unprecedented food and nutrition crisis in 15 countries, including Nigeria. According to the statement by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than 30 million children in the 15 worst-affected countries are currently suffering from wasting or acute malnutrition and eight million of them are severely wasted, the deadliest form of undernutrition. “This is a major threat to children’s lives,” said the UN agencies, “and to their long-term health and development, the impacts of which are felt by individuals, their communities and their countries.”

That Nigeria is ranked as one of the countries with the highest number of malnourished children in the world came as no surprise. As far back as 2008, the report of the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) had indicated that one out of every three children under the age of five in the country is stunted and suffering from chronic malnutrition. 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. Obviously, nobody paid attention.

Indeed, in that report, 53 per cent of child mortalities in Nigeria were traceable to malnutrition. Paradoxically, however, even though malnutrition is the underlying cause for a third of child mortality in the world, it is yet to receive the nature of high-profile campaign and investment necessary to address it effectively, in comparison with other causes of child mortality such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Consequently, while child mortality rate caused by malaria has shrunk by a third since 2000, child malnutrition rates have decreased by a small fraction within the same period.

Political commitment is therefore necessary to ensure advocacy on the adverse implications of malnutrition and how to avoid its devastating consequences. Partnership with civil society and academic institutions with focus on food and nutrition is also an imperative. Such commitment could come by way of mapping out clear strategies for up-scaling nutrition in the public sphere. This should consist of clear roles and responsibilities for the various stakeholders, with milestones for mainstreaming nutrition into agriculture, fortifying basic foods with essential minerals or vitamins, mobilising communities for action on growing more beneficial foods, and the perils of malnutrition.

Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger, in a country so blessed with arable land and natural resources. Unfortunately, both poverty and hunger continue to saturate our country’s landscape. Yet hunger is both a cause and consequence of poverty, as people on low incomes tend to have worse diets, while people who lack adequate nutrition struggle harder to extricate themselves from poverty. Therefore, for effective health and social protection, mothers must be encouraged to adopt exclusive breastfeeding habits for their babies in the initial six months of their lives. Thereafter, complementary feeding can be introduced for 24 months, then the consumption of various nutrients such as Vitamin A, iodised salt and zinc, amongst others.

Our governments, at practically all levels, need to sit up and confront malnutrition with resolute decisiveness if the future of our children is to be secure. They must 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. They have an obligation in ensuring that the future of Nigerian children is secured by tackling those things inhibiting their proper upbringing and social welfare.

Related Articles