Written by Ijeoma UKAZU

As the Nigerian child suffers from severe acute malnutrition...

With the increasing cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM, in the North Eastern region of Nigeria, stakeholders say there is an urgent need for intervention to stem the tide.

Malnutrition has serious and permanent consequences in the growth and development of children, if not timely identified and treated.

Data from the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says, one out of two child deaths under the age of five is attributed to malnutrition.

According to Nutrition Sector annual projections, an estimated 2.5 Million boys and girls under the age of five suffer from SAM every year in Nigeria. It also estimated that 371,000 boys and girls under the age of five in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, BAY, states will suffer from SAM.

Though, the nutrition surveillance data indicate slight improvement on the nutrition situation since the beginning of the response by concerned organizations in North East Nigeria.

But recent reports show that, child malnutrition cases in Borno had continued to rise despite international interventions.

However, the wide-spread insecurity, population displacement, poor food security situation, sub-optimal water, hygiene and sanitation practices and high disease burden continue 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 percent in Borno, 13 percent in Yobe and six percent in Adamawa, indicating very high levels of malnutrition according to World Health Organization classification.

The protracted access constraints to these regions due to insecurity has made the situation even worse in Rann (Kala Balge), South Yobe, Magumeri, Jere and Konduga Local Government Areas.

To address the issues of malnutrition in the region, UNICEF held a media dialogue in Maiduguri, Borno state where it stated that, Nigeria is in dire need of N4.4 billion to procure 229,636 cartons of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food, RUTF to address malnutrition in the state in 2020.

The international agency said, an estimated 440,000 children who are under five years are affected by the Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM, in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states in 2019.

Similarly, in Nasarawa state according to reports making the rounds by Radio Nigeria in Lafia, it was gathered that children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition and stunted growth were on admission, especially at Dalhatu Araf Specialists Hospital Lafia as complaint from health workers says there is non-availability of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food.

The report also said that there has been over increasing cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition in Nasarawa state just as UNICEF has shown concerns.

The coordinator of UNICEF in the state, Alhaji Yakubu Mohammed, gave this indication stating that the increasing cases of malnutrition in the state calls for urgent intervention of the state government by paying its counterpart funds as part of steps towards addressing the trend.

Yakubu Mohammed pointed out that the state government was expected to pay about N70 million as counterpart contribution to access over N200 million from UNICEF to service children programmes including nutrition in the state.

In North East, UNICEF said it needs N5 billion for the procurement of 258,950 cartons of RUTF for Severe Acute Malnutrition for 2020.

This according to the UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Aminu Usman who disclosed this at the opening of a two-day media dialogue on "Integrated and timely response to nutrition-related humanitarian needs" organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF, with support from the Department for International Development, DFID.

UNICEF said it has been able to secure procurement for 29,314 cartons out of the total number needed.

This, he said, has left a funding gap of N4.4 billion for the procurement of 229,636 cartons of RUTF.

"N5 billion is needed to necessitate the procurement of 258,950 cartons of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food for Severe Acute Malnutrition treatment.

"Already, 29,314 cartons have been secured, leaving a funding gap of N4.4 billion for the procurement of the remaining 229,636 cartons of RUTF," the UNICEF nutrition specialist said.

Usman also noted the likelihood of fresh influx that may exacerbate the already poor nutrition situation in the state.

In her remarks, another Nutrition Specialist, Abigael Nyukuri, in her presentation on "The Status of Child Nutrition in Borno," Nyukuri gave the breakdown as follows, 440,000 children under the age of five are estimated to suffer from SAM this year in the three states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe.

Giving further analysis, Ms Nyukuri, said that Yobe state tops with 13 percent, followed by Borno with 11 percent, and Adamawa with six percent.

She said, "There is still an emergency situation in the north east as malnutrition affects child’s development and causes 50 percent of deaths of children under five. It causes irreversible brain damage and compromised intellectual capacity."

She further revealed that constraints and insecurity had made the situation even worse in some areas.

"Poor nutrition situation is further exacerbated by the poor food security situation, sub-optimal Water Sanitation and Hygiene practices and high disease burden,” she said.

In his opening remarks at the event, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, harped on the need to specifically address nutrition for children in the country.

Represented by the Deputy Director and Head, Child Rights Information Bureau, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Olumide Osanyinpeju, he said this is important to avoid the consequences of malnutrition.

Mohammed warned that the future of Nigeria is at risk of deprivations of basic social amenities, of which nutrition is inclusive; and especially in the Northern rural and hard-to-reach communities.

Commenting, UNICEF Communication Specialist, Dr. Geoffrey Njoku, observed that poverty is not the only cause of Malnutrition in Nigeria.

He explained that lack of knowledge of the right combination of foods for children can also lead to malnutrition.

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