•Says 2.5m kids affected, 90 per cent in North
By Gabriel Dike
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) says about half a million children die annually as a result of malnutrition in the country just as it called on government at all levels to make budgetary provision for nutritional need of mothers and children.
Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health (FMH), Abuja, Dr. Chris Isokpunwu stated this at a two-day ‘’Media dialogue on leveraging resources for child malnutrition in Nigeria’’ held in Enugu state.
In his paper: “Scaling up nutrition in Nigeria: What will it cost?” Dr. Isokpunwu disclosed that ‘’nearly one million children under the age of five years die in Nigeria every year. This makes Nigeria one of the highest contributors to under five mortality in the world. About half of this is due to malnutrition.”
According to him, those who survive often become stunted, adding that stunting is the major indicator used to measure childhood malnutrition and revealed that malnutrition currently affects 2.5million children in the country.
‘’ It compares the height with the age of a child (too short for age due to inadequate intake of the required nutrients over a period of time Poor physical growth and brain development resulting from poor nutrition in children make them not to thrive and live to their full potential’’, he observed.
He said aside disease and inadequate dietary intake, other major factors responsible for the high level of malnutrition in the country include religious beliefs, culture and ignorance.
Dr. Isokpunwu and UNICEF advocated six months exclusive breastfeeding by mothers and acknowledged that the practice is on the decline due to several factors and disclosed that the National Food and Nutrition Policy seek to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first six months to at least 50 per cent by 2019.
The head of nutrition at FMH drew the attention of government and health officials to the need to improve exclusive breastfeeding by mothers stating that in 1990, it was two per cent, 2013, 17 per cent, 2008, 13 per cent, 2013, 17 per cent and 2015, 25 per cent.
He painted a bleak picture on nutritional indices for children noting a decline in stunting, 1990, 43 per cent of children were affected, 2003, 42 per cent, 2008, 41 per cent, 2013, 37 per cent and 2015, 33 per cent. For Wasting, in 1990, it was nine per cent, 2003, 11 per cent, 2008, 14 per cent, 2013, 18 per cent and seven per cent in 2015 while for underweight, in 1990, 36 per cent, 2003, 24 per cent, 2008, 23 per cent, 2013, 29per cent and 2015, 17 per cent.