…Ministry of Health on rescue mission
From Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
The current recession in the country has unarguably resulted in hardship and increased abject poverty, especially among the masses.
Not only have the prices of essential commodities hit the roof, making life difficult, especially for poor masses, food stuff have also become so expensive that a lot of people are facing malnutrition.
A lot of people have resorted to either 0-1-0 or 1-0-1 or 0-0-1 formular for their meal which poses a lot of malnutrition danger.
Investigations indicated that a lot of people are living from hands to mouth as their earnings are no longer enough for them to enjoy proper feeding.
However, measures are being taken in Osun State with a view to ensuring that the citizens survive the recession by overcoming the attendant malnutrition crisis.
James Oloyede, assistant director at the Osun State Ministry of Health in the Nutrition Unit of the Primary Health Care Department, said the ministry has embarked on a series of awareness programmes, especially in the rural areas to orientate the populace on the need to take advantage of local and home-grown foods in their environments.
He noted that there was adequate food items, including cocoa yams, sweet potatoes, corn, millet, vegetables, fruits such as oranges, pawpaw, mangoes, banana, plantains, but lamented that people were not harnessing and making proper choice of diets out of them to ensure proper feeding.
“A lot of foods items are wasting away. Apart from the fact that farmers may be faced with the challenge of poor transportation to move the farm produce to the markets, people who have access to the food items prefer processed foods such as semovita, wheat, indomie, can drinks which they don’t have money to buy due to the recession. If people can resort to eating home grown and locally made foods, then the effects of the recession on them would reduce,” Oloyede said.
He added: “Apart from the current recession which has greatly resulted in hunger in most families, poor knowledge of proper nutrition is another challenge; many people don’t know how to combine good foods and achieve balanced diets.
“What one diet lacks is available in the other and we can get a lot of them in the home grown foods available to us. After all, we have a lot of foods in Osun State. There are foods everywhere, especially in the farms. Balanced diet is very important to be able to achieve adequate nutrition.”
Oloyede said that the Nutrition Unit of the ministry engages in child nutrition awareness programmes where pregnant and nursing mothers are given orientation on proper dieting during pregnancy and child nutrition after birth.
“We look at infant nutrition right from the womb; maternal nutrition when a mother is pregnant, feeding of the baby after birth, adolescent nutrition and the nutrition of the aged,” he said.
“There is what we call vulnerable group and window of opportunity nutrition. This is within the first 1,000 days which begins from conception till the first two years.
“This is the first critical window of opportunity to start up the child on the note of good nutrition,” he said.
Within the first 1,000 days, if the mother is deficient in any of the nutrients that the baby needs for optimal growth, there would be growth retardation. The reason is that right from the womb, the baby is malnourished because the mother cannot supply adequate nutrient for the baby’s optimal growth, he stated.
Oloyede lamented that due to the economic crunch, some pregnant mothers might not have the means of eating well, thereby risking malnutrition. He added that they may not bother to eat foods rich in energy which include carbohydrates and proteins such as bush meat, local chickens among others.
He, therefore, tasked them to eat extra foods “because it is from the extra foods that they would gain additional weight to be able to cope with the pressure of the baby in the womb who also depends on them for their own nutrients.
“Malnutrition is a big challenge among the people, especially because of the current recession. That is why we give orientations to pregnant women during antenatal visits on the quality of diets to take in order to achieve adequate nutrition, especially for the sake of the growing fetus in the womb,” Oloyede said.
According to him, a well-nourished mother stands the chance of giving birth to a healthy baby, especially in terms of normal weight.
He also disclosed that if a girl child was malnourished, she would face the risk of stunted growth and when she grows up and gets pregnant, she would give birth to a stunted child because of gene interference.
He added that maternal mortality begins with poor girl child nutrition, insisting that a girl child must be given a proper nutrition to avoid stunted growth.
“The reason is that if a girl child’s height is lower than the minimum height, she risks the chances of death while giving birth, following obstetric challenges because her pelvic might be too small for the baby.
“Research has shown that if a woman is below 1.53m or 1.53 cm, she faces obstetric risk. That is why some mothers can’t deliver babies naturally without being assisted,” Oloyede said.
Still speaking on proper child nutrition which also depends on good nutrition by the nursing mother, Oloyede also noted that breast milk was the most essential meal for the newborn baby.
He said the new baby must be put to breast within the first 30 minutes or one hour after birth to promote lactation and exclusive breast feeding initiative.
He also stressed the need for exclusive breast feeding for new born babies from birth till six months, after which water and other food varieties could be introduced, noting that with it, they would not fall sick but develop fast and also achieve high intelligent quotient through brain efficiency.
Health workers, he said, had been trained on how to orientate nursing mothers on the benefits of exclusive breast feeding.
He, therefore, warned nursing mothers against giving herbs (agbo), palp (ogi) to any baby that is on exclusive breast feeding until after six months.
He also warned against placement of the baby on infant formula unless it was recommended by a medical personnel, noting that such nutrition exposed the new child to some health dangers.
He said that after the exclusive breast feeding which is supposed to last for six months, the baby could be introduced to complementary feeding which means addition of other foods to the breast milk which the baby is expected to enjoy for two years or more.
He recommended liquid-related foods made from millet, sorghum and guinea corn at this stage. He also suggested other foods rich in protein such as grounded dry fish, crayfish as well as beans.
On the efforts being made to ensure proper child nutrition in the state, especially in the rural areas, Oloyede also disclosed that the ministry had introduced a programme known as Infant and Young Child Feeding (ICF) in several local government areas to embark on advocacy and sensitization programme for the community people on child nutrition.
Food demonstration, he added, is another programme embarked upon to ensure good nutrition for the child.
He noted that groundnut, local beans, rice, melon, groundnut, maize, which are within the localities are good diets for the child.
According to him, the advocacy had helped in reducing infant and maternal mortality arising from malnutrition occasioned by economic recession.
The ongoing Osun elementary school feeding and health programme known as O’meals launched by the Governor Rauf Aregbesola-led administration on April 30, 2012 and being implemented in all the 1,378 public primary schools in the state is another avenue through which parents and children are getting assistance to be able to survive the economic recession in the state.
Government believes that a well fed child is able to concentrate better in school and able to learn and understand much more. He is also much healthier and is hardly absent from school on account of illness.
Oloyede said that the Ministry of Health, particularly the Nutrition Department, plays crucial roles in the implementation and success of the scheme.
“Since the commencement of the programme we feed not less than 10,000 pupils every day.
The Nutrition Department designed the menu for the scheme. We depend largely on local made foods in the state that can be substituted for processed foods which have become very expensive,” he said.
On the varieties of foods given to the children, he said: “We introduced coco yam, corn, beans yams. We also had bread on the menu before it became too expensive due to the recession. We give them fish or chicken on two days intervals and egg every week.
Recently, we also introduced a variety of sweet potato known as orange flesh sweet potato which is rich in carotene and can be converted to vitamin A in the body. It boosts immunity, prevents infection and promotes good eye sight in children. As a result of the school feeding scheme, malnutrition rate has reduced significantly in the state,” he said.
Suffice to note that the school feeding programme has gone a long way in ameliorating the effects of the economic recession on the parts of the parents. It has reduced poverty level of the people because parents can use the money saved from the feeding of their children during the school hours to feed other children at home.
A parent of an Elementary School pupils in one of the public schools who introduced himself as bricklayer but does not want his name in print told Daily Sun that since the introduction of the school feeding programme, the feeding maintenance pressure on him at the home front had reduced.
“I have four children in three different public schools in Osogbo who enjoy free one square meal per day at school. When they come back from school in the afternoon, they don’t expect to eat again until evening, except they want to eat any little thing like biscuit. This has saved me and my wife a lot of stress. So, we use the money saved to take care of dinner or other things.
I thank God for what government is doing because it helps a lot of parents to survive the economic recession.”
Oloyede said the school feeding programme had also boosted the economy and agriculture of the state because the foods are bought directly from farmers and guarantees wealth transfer within the state with attendant multiplier effects on the state’s economy.
Oloyode who commended the state government’s efforts in using the scheme to tackle child malnutrition in the state said it was introduced through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) 2004 Act and designed to produce a minimum of one square meal per day to each primary school pupil from primary one to four.
“The programme has improved the fortune of farmers and generated not less than 4,000 jobs for the people of the state, following employment of caterers, cleaners, among others,” he enthused.
Governor Aregbesola, while basking in the euphoria of the success of the scheme had said: “If this kind of programme had been embraced a decade ago, the kind of heinous crime Boko Haram is unleashing on the country wouldn’t have been heard of.”