The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, should be commended for bringing to centre-stage the embarrassing situation of infant malnutrition in the country. Briefing newsmen recently on the maiden edition of “Nutrition Week” celebration organized by his ministry, the minister alerted the nation on the health ravages being caused by malnutrition. We are shocked to learn that as many as 1,200 children could die every day in the country due to malnutrition and this number represents 53 per cent of children deaths.
This is not only tragic, it is utterly disgraceful for a nation that claims to value its children above everything else to tolerate that level of infant mortality through an avoidable cause such as malnutrition. We, indeed, hope the figures are wrong and exaggerated. Otherwise, this calls for a national emergency and a nation-wide dialogue to investigate the cause and proffer solutions at the earliest possible time.
It is quite understandable why the North-East and North-West geo-political zones rank top among the six zones in the malnutrition index. The North-East has for nearly seven years been a theatre of war perpetrated by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, which also makes incursions into the North- West on occasions. Under these circumstances, we cannot wait for the launch of the “Revised National Policy on Food and Nutrition” which the ministry promised as a step in the effort at finding a lasting solution to the problem.
The North-East zone clearly has the highest number of ‘Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the country. Its status as a disturbed region with millions of people having to live in camps under various difficult and uncertain conditions must have worsened the situation. Basic things must be done to check the worrisome situation. At the earliest sign of malnutrition in a child, the primary health care centres should point out when a child is endangered and be placed on special diet. The Federal Government must, therefore, re-design the feeding programme of children in the camps, knowing that children are rather sensitive to the quality of nutrition. It was exactly for this reason that the country recorded outrageous casualty figures of children during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70. And the answer should be found in formulating special nutrition packs designed and fortified for children and served by mothers specially instructed to take extra care in the feeding of vulnerable children.
It is impossible to separate the current child malnutrition from the recent high cost of food in the country. Fish, meat, eggs, chicken, beans and other high protein foods have gone beyond the reach of the common man. The Federal Government must continue to strive to bring down the cost of food in the country. It is equally impossible not to acknowledge certain cultural family feeding patterns that contribute to malnutrition in children. There is the need to reeducate those who do not understand that protein foods are needed most by children and least by the heads of the household. Mothers have been known to give much of the protein to the men while ignoring the children who actually cannot do without it. State and local governments should work in concert with the Federal Government to halt the increasing infant deaths caused by malnutrition.
Above all, we think that government should hasten the conclusion of the war on Boko Haram and push for the restoration of normalcy in every part of the country. Liberated towns should be secured and the natives returned to their homesteads to resume normal lives. People should be provided opportunities to grow their own food wherever possible. As long as many citizens are displaced and kept in make-shift camps, human misery will continue to haunt millions of Nigerians and with it, the malnutrition of children.