Olumide Osanyinpeju, a UNICEF consultant, said that the prevalence of malnutrition in the North East is a sharp contrast to its figure in the South
Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Recently, the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund, (UNICEF) raised the alarm that one in every six children in the North East is suffering from malnutrition. It said the phenomenon is one of the consequences of the instability in the region, which has dislodged many families from the homes and relieved many of their means of livelihood.
Statistics estimates that thousands have fled their homes on account of the devastation of Boko Haram in the region in the past 10 years. A similar data indicates that over 4000 families, including children, have been displaced by the farmers/herders crisis rocking Taraba State.
Experts believe that the configuration of these security challenges in the region have swollen the population of children who are likely to come under as a result of malnutrition and related diseases.
Olumide Osanyinpeju, a UNICEF consultant, said that the prevalence of malnutrition in the North East is a sharp contrast to its figure in the South, noting that there, one malnourished child in every 72 children suffer from the disease.
Mrs. Theresa Yohanna, 24-year-old mother of two, lost her two-year-old baby two months ago, after the child came down with the disease. She told Daily Sun that she never knew her child was suffering from malnutrition, adding that she suddenly observed that he was emaciating terribly fast:
“I became pregnant before I even finished weaning the baby. Then he started having fever, the fever became reoccurring. He was also not feeding well. Even before he was three months old, he had started taking pap and water to augment my breast milk. Unfortunately, he lost appetite as the days went by.
“Most of the neighbors blamed me for the child’s health, saying that my taking in was responsible for the change in my baby’s health. My husband would buy some drugs at the chemist for him each time he comes down with fever. I made sure that each time they came, he took his immunization. He was not developing like other normal children and we were always worried” she continued.
“It was just a few months ago that he took ill again and we took him to the hospital. That was when they ran some tests and diagnosed that our baby was suffering from serious malnutrition. They tried all they could, but we lost him. It was already too late.
“The most painful thing is that, I never realized my baby was just seriously malnourished until it was too late. I listened to my neighbors who said it was because of my pregnancy that the baby was reacting that way, encouraging me that he would recover. If only I sought medical care in time, he would still be here with me.”
At Jauro Gbadi Primary School camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Taraba State, at least two children under the age of five have died of malnutrition. According to Mrs. Victoria Samari, women at the camp, as a result of this tragic, have made it a point of duty to ensure that the children and lactating mothers are most properly taken care of, often at the detriment of other camp members adding that that has helped to check the cases of malnutrition:
“We have an unwritten rule here that priority attention be given to children and breastfeeding mothers so that we can protect the future. The children represent the future. Besides, we can cope better with less food as adults. What we do here is that when we have highly nutritious foodstuff like soybeans and others, we keep them exclusively for the children and breastfeeding mothers.
“Once, we noticed that a child is down, we pay particular attention to their feeding. That has helped us a lot in saving the lives of our children here. It is, however, very unfortunate that despite these efforts, we have lost two children to malnutrition already.
“The truth is that, we need to do more for our children especially at this early stage of their lives in order to protect their future otherwise, we might lose most of them. The government and other people must rise to the occasion and save the children of the displaced persons from starving to death. Most of the mothers just feed their children with anything, irrespective of the age of the children.”
At the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Jalingo and Specialist Hospital, Jalingo, malnutrition is considered a leading cause of child mortality, which unfortunately is not attracting the deserved attention.
According to Dr. Magaji Ivoma, malnutrition is a very serious killer and a major cause of child death in the state, adding however expressing concern that it is treated with such laxity:
“We have a lot of cases of malnutrition here all the time. Some of the cases, we manage them successfully and discharge them while we lost some of the children. The truth is that, most of the cases come when it is almost too late to do anything about them.
“You know that malnutrition, especially when it becomes severe, predisposes the child to other health issues. It weakens the immune system of the child and makes him vulnerable to other infections and diseases.
“I think the issue is not getting as much attention as it should. People simply pay a lot of attention to malaria, diarrhea, and other child-killer diseases without realizing that malnutrition does more harm than the diseases. Once a child is so acutely malnourished, it affects his future in almost all ramifications.
“The most critical damage is underdevelopment of the brain which affects the child’s academic performance and psychosocial skills. It does a lot of damage that lasts the entire lifetime of the child. I think ignorance plays a key role here.
“Most lactating mothers are not even aware that they are supposed to feed their children on breast milk exclusively for the first six months. And even when their child is suffering from malnutrition, they don’t even seem to know what is happening.
“They just continue bombarding the child with all sorts of self medication without seeking professional help
“Another problem is that some of mothers don’t want to give sugar to their children because it will give them Jedi Jedi. This all compounds the situation.”
Against the background, UNICEF recently organized a two-day workshop to sensitize journalists on the prevalence of the disease in the hope that they would further enlighten the populace to get it right. It was organized by in collaboration with the Ministry of Information:
“We have to define the strategic objectives of improving food security at the national, community and household level. As journalists, you are encouraged to raise awareness and understanding of the problem of malnutrition in Nigeria and resource allocation for food and nutrition security at all levels.
“It is necessary that awareness be created among Nigerian populace especially for mothers; both lactating and non-lactating mothers to give, within the first six months of birth, the breast milk exclusively which is enough for the infant, as nutrition is the key to national development.
“It is imperative to combat malnutrition, because it can cause death in young children, particularly those under five years of age and do a lot of other damages to the ultimate development of the child.”