From Desmond Mgboh, Tunde Omolehin, Ahmed Abubakar and Mohammed Munirat Nasir
About 2.2 million under-five children, in different communities and states in the North suffer acute cases of malnutrition, latest statistics from health stakeholders reveal.
A two-day summit for policy makers in the states, on “Financing Nutrition in Northern Nigeria”, which contained statistics of the malnourished children, said malnutrition has remained very high in northern Nigeria, insisting that majority of children in the region were on minimum acceptable diet.
The health summit, which brought together experts, stakeholders and policy makers in the area of nutrition and related fields, was organised by the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning in partnership with Civil Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) held last weekend, in Kano.
Similarly, an official from Sokoto State Ministry of Health told Daily Sun, on Monday, that, no fewer than nine local councils in the state have high prevalence of malnutrition.
Worse hit local government areas, he said, are Binji, Gudu, Gada, Goronyo, Illela, Tangaza, Wamakko, Sabon-Birni and Sokoto South.
The source quoted UNICEF statistics which aggregated the prevalence rate, indicating that at least 40,099 of children from the state were suffering from severe acute malnutrition. He cautioned that situation was ugly and alarming and required expeditious response by all the relevant bodies.
Head of Advocacy and Communication, Save the Children, in Zamfara State, Alhaji Isah Ibrahim also told Daily Sun, on Monday, that the trend was no different in the state.
According to him, in the last five years, they enrolled over 65, 361 severely malnourished children for treatment in their 24 CMAM Centers in the state.
Isah regretted that of this number; about 57,658 successfully recovered fwhile about 1336 died of malnutrition and related impact.
Reports equally indicated a disturbing prevalence of under-nutrition or malnutrition in Katsina State, with countless number of under aged several communities already devastated by the disease, which has hit the roof in recent times due to the growing rate of poverty in the country and the helplessness of many parents. Director of Primary Health Care at Mai’Adua Local Government Council, Alhaji Nasiru Muazu, told newsmen, recently, that the state records 50 new cases of malnutrition weekly, out of the children population of 59,665 a figure many observers feared could be replicated in many local councils in the state.
Alhaji Muazu attributed the widening scope of the disease in the council to a number of factors among which were the difficulties faced in accessing some of the affected communities by health workers due to bad roads.
He added that the situation was further compounded by the fact that many women in these communities could not afford the transportation cost of accessing the centres with their children when required.
It was also gathered that in some cases, these women fail to administer the Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) on their children, but instead sold the food for quick cash to attend to” more pressing needs”.
It was also alleged that in some cases, their husbands consume the RUTF, claiming it boosts their appetite for sex.
Check by Daily Sun’s reporters across some states in the region indicated that malnutrition is worst in the rural communities and villages, although some cases could be located in urban centers and state capitals. Unexciting images of these underfed children, sometimes strapped on the backs of their mothers, were common in these local communities.
To underscore the prevalence of malnutrition among children generally, the Kano Summit estimated that malnutrition was responsible for at least 50 percent of child mortality country wide, adding that no fewer than 1200 of 2600 estimated daily mortality figure of children in Nigeria has malnutrition as the underlying factor.
These experts listed the factors underlying the spread of malnutrition across the Northern region to include the current food insecurity, inappropriate feeding habits, poor awareness on acceptable adequate diet, insufficient health facilities and services
They also outlined the delay in the domestication and implementation of the existing national policy guidelines on nutrition, such as the National Policy on Food and Nutrition and the National Strategic Plan of Action by the states, pointing that these failure undermined efforts to address the problem of malnutrition through a multi- sectoral approach by the relevant stakeholders in the health, education, agriculture, water and sanitation and social sectors.
Other factors promoting the present status of malnutrition in the North, according to these experts included inadequate budgetary allocation to nutrition, delay or outright non- release of nutrition appropriated funds by some state governments to complement the donor’s efforts in scaling up the fight against malnutrition.
The Summit whose report was read by Hon, Bukar Mustaapha , Chairman , Yobe State House Committee on Health, equally acknowledged the absence of a legal framework on nutrition budget and appropriation and oversight
Speaking to Daily Sun, the Commissioner of Health, Sokoto State, Dr Shehu Balarabe disclosed that the Sokoto State government was planning to produce its own Ready –to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for the treatment of malnutrition, especially child malnutrition in the state.
He said the state government could no longer afford to continue to spend so much on the importation of RUTF which is produced from groundnut paste.
His words: “In the past, we imported Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) from South Africa and United States. However, what we’re now working at is to stop that. We will soon start producing it right here in Sokoto.
“RUTF is highly nutritious and is made from groundnut paste. We also thank God that Dangote is investing in the production of the drugs here in Nigeria, so we commend him for that” he stated.
The Commissioner was emphatic that one of the dangerous effects of malnutrition was retarding mental development of its victims.
The Commissioner stressed that a country like Nigeria, with wide spread malnourished younger ones, is doomed, because such young ones would grow up to be dunce, lacking the necessary Intelligent Quotient to live useful life and contribute meaningfully to the development of the society.
According to him, the danger about malnutrition is that it is not the preserve of the poor and the uneducated as was erroneously the belief in many quarters. He also argued that it was not restricted to some parts of the country.
He said that malnutrition now ranks higher than the HIV in terms of immune deficiencies, adding that malnourished children are exposed more, to all types of dangerous diseases and deaths than the HIV.
“Malnourished children are stunted both in physical appearances and in terms of brain, ”the commissioner said, adding that, “ for a child to be bright and intelligent is not the function of the best school he attended, but the correct early exclusive breast feeding he enjoyed right from birth.
Zamfara State Nutrition Officer, Alhaji Samaila Bakwai, accounting for what they have done so far, told Daily Sun that they were committed to complementing the efforts of the Development Partners at eradicating malnutrition among children in the state .
He said thatthe Zamfara state government had appropriated the sum of N100 million for Nutrition Intervention in its 2016 budget adding that the “The Nutrition Intervention” was meant boost and scale up Infant Young Child Feeding Program in the state.
The Nutrition Officer added that the state government will continue to support and encourage Development Partners such as UNICEF and Save the Children in the bid to enhance good nutrition among children and women in the state.
Investigation revealed that though the state government since 2013 has created a budget line for nutrition, the level of release has been abysmal.
This year, for instance, it was discovered that out of the N100 Million appropriated in the 2016 budget, only five million Naira has been released so far.