" ITREALMS: Editorial: Curbing child malnutrition in Nigeria

Monday, September 14, 2015

Editorial: Curbing child malnutrition in Nigeria

MALNUTRITION is the inability to feed right or the absence of a balanced diet in the food intake of an individual. By this, it’s not enough to eat but to take food that has the right nutritional contents requirement of the body.

Indeed, a balanced diet is one that gives the body the nutrition it needs to function properly. Child malnutrition, therefore, occurs when a child lacksrequired nutritional content in all his or her childhood daily food intake.

Malnutrition is estimated to contribute over one-third of all child deaths, although it is rarely listed as the direct cause. Yet lack of access to highly nutritious foods, especially in the present context of rising food prices, is a common cause of malnutrition. Poor feeding practices, such as inadequate breastfeeding, offering the wrong foods, and not ensuring that the child gets enough nutritious food, contribute to malnutrition.

According to the United Nations International Children Fund (UNICEF) about 1.7 million Nigerian children under the age of five years are severely and acutely malnourished, accounting for a tenth of the global total. 

Nearly 1,000 Nigerian children die of malnutrition-related causes every day with a total of 361,000 each year as acute malnutrition also leads to stunting of children, thereby causing life-long physical limitations and reduction in intellectual capacity.

Nonetheless, some of the leading causes of malnutrition generally include poverty and lack of information or absolute ignorant among others. During the last two decades, for instance, the number of people affected by extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has nearly doubled. Poverty alone does not lead to malnutrition, but it seriously affects the availability of adequate amounts of nutritious food for the most vulnerable populations. Over 90 per cent of malnourished people live in developing countries.

Other certain illnesses and infections, such as tuberculosis, measles, and diarrhea are directly linked to acute malnutrition. A combination of disease and malnutrition weakens the metabolism creating a vicious cycle of infection and undernourishment, leading to vulnerability to illness. HIV and AIDS have become a leading cause of acute malnutrition in developing countries. A child infected with HIV is more vulnerable to acute malnutrition than a healthy child.

Conflicts have a direct impact on food security, drastically compromising access to food. Often forced to flee as violence escalates, people uprooted by conflict lose access to their farms and businesses, or other means of local food production and markets. Abandoned fields and farms no longer provide food to broader distribution circuits.

In line with UN studies in over 40 developing countries, the decline in agricultural production caused either directly or indirectly by climate change could dramatically increase the number of people suffering from hunger in the coming years.

More so, water is synonymous with life. Lack of potable water, poor sanitation, and dangerous hygiene practices increase vulnerability to infectious and water-borne diseases, which are direct causes of acute malnutrition.

Recently, world leaders pledged more than $4billion, about N796 billion to global nutrition programmes and committed to save 20 million children from malnutrition at Nutrition for Growth, a pre-G8 event, in London.

Conscious efforts are therefore advocated including prioritizing the 1,000-day window: to save about3.1 million children who estimatedly die every year due to malnutrition. An additional 165 million children who manage to survive malnutrition in their early years experience stunted growth and cognitive development, undermining their future productivity and income.

In addition, most pregnant women living in these countries cannot access nutrition services until the sixth month of their pregnancies, if at all. As a result, their children start their lives already malnourished.

Malnutrition, hence robs individuals of up to 10 per cent of their annual earnings and cost African countries up to 11 per cent of their annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Though the good news is, malnutrition solutions offer sound investments for countries’ futures. However, many national nutrition plans are only 20 per cent funded. Countries must start prioritizing nutrition programmes within their national budgets, so as to sustain commitment and reduction of malnutrition locally.

It is gratifying to note that Nigeria recognised the role of nutrition as a development issue and committed to addressing malnutrition with adoption of a National Health Strategic Development Plan which recognises nutrition as an important component. To recognise the multi-sectorality of nutrition, the National Policy on Food and Nutrition and National Plan of Action (2004) were established to ensure implementation of the policy was coordinated with clear roles and responsibilities for each related sector.

Though Nigeria has updated its 2004 National Plan of Action on Food and Nutrition that agreed upon common results and includes a Monitoring and Evaluation framework thus aligningefforts at increasing coverage of specific nutrition interventions including the Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM),in addition to, promotion of high-energy food and food fortification by local enterprises.

We urge governments at all levels to internalize the workings and framework of the recently developed home-based treatment for acute malnutrition which is improving the lives of hundreds of children annually based on Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) which has revolutionized the treatment of severe malnutrition cases, because RUTF is ready-to-use paste devoid of accidental contamination and Nigeria can take advantage of that in curbing child malnutrition in the country.

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