By Maria Famakinwa
Malnutrition in Nigeria is a major issue, affecting 35 million children under five, with 12 million stunted, three million wasted, and 23.5 million anemic. The 2023 Cadre Report revealed 17.7 million hungry people, with one million suffering from acute food insecurity. The average reduction in stunting is only 1.4percent per year. With just N11,000, Nigeria’s future could be saved through high-impact preventive interventions.
However, experts say that with the increasing level of multidimensional poverty in Nigeria, it is expected that malnutrition at all levels will worsen with the current food insecurity nationwide unless urgent steps are taken to solve the problem.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), says malnutrition increases health care costs, reduces productivity, and slows economic growth, which can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and ill-health.
Speaking on how to combat malnutrition in Nigeria, UNICEF’s Nutrition Officer, Nkeiru Enwelum, emphasized the urgent need for investments and funding in nutrition to reduce malnutrition and improve diet quality. Enwelum said failure to prevent malnutrition in children, including stunting, wasting, and underweight, leads to long-term, irreversible impacts on cognitive and physical growth.
She added that Nigeria’s 2023 GDP is N506.6 billion, and failing to prevent malnutrition results in a loss of N76 billion, or 15 percent of the GDP.
The UNICEF nutritionist officer estimates that a child’s nutritional needs are currently estimated to cost N11,000, which is about five dollars per child per year. Treatment costs are nearly 10 times the current cost, with vitamin A supplementation costing 0.44 dollars. She said with N11,000, Nigerian children will have access to supplements such as zinc, vitamin A, and ORS for diarrhea, with the updated ORS supplement providing electrolytes.
Her words: “The total to deliver all these preventive interventions per child per year is N11, 000. This time last year, when we did the analysis, 14 dollars were N6, 000 at the CBN rate. Now that same 14 dollars is about N11, 000, but the price in dollars is constant. Government must do everything to support the fight against malnutrition.”
Also reacting, a nurse, Mrs Arinola Olaiya, explained that malnutrition implies a marked increase in the child’s susceptibility to infections and contributes to child mortality. According to her, pregnant women who are not adequately nourished eventually give birth to babies with low weight thus putting their survival at risks.
She disclosed that Nigeria is reputed as having the second highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five. An estimated two million children in the country also suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
Her words: “Given the dire statistics, unless government takes immediate steps to address hunger and malnutrition, especially in children and pregnant women, our poor indices on maternal and child mortality can only further worsen. Indeed, if concerted and deliberate action is not taken, millions of Nigerian children will be physically and mentally stunted with their lives devastated perhaps forever. Political commitment is therefore necessary to ensure advocacy on the adverse implications of malnutrition and how to avoid its devastating consequences. Partnership with civil society and academic institutions with focus on food and nutrition is also an imperative.”
Olaiya, called on government at all levels to invest massively in nutrition in order to tackle malnutrition. “Government expenditure on nutrition is inadequate. At the national and subnational levels, budgetary release is inadequate and does not match the budgetary allocation. We must ensure more money for nutrition and more nutrition for money. While malnutrition in all forms imposes high costs directly and indirectly on the country, it overstretches the already bad economy coupled with the economic consequences at the individual, household, and community levels. Hence the urgent need for the Nigerian government to consider massive investments in nutrition as it prepares its next budget in the coming year to allow the children to breathe.”
Sharing a similar view, Mr Idris Ilemobola, another health practitioner hinted that for government to address the issue of malnutrition, poverty must first be tackled. The man who lamented that Nigerians are suffering in the midst of endowed natural resources appealed to the government to do the needful to end increase malnutrition across the country.
He said: “Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger in a country blessed with arable land and natural resources. Unfortunately, both poverty and hunger continue to saturate our country’s landscape, exacerbated by the pervasive insecurity across the country. Hunger is both a cause and consequence of poverty, as people on low income tend to have worse diets, while people who lack adequate nutrition struggle harder to free themselves from poverty. Our governments, at practically all levels, need to sit up and confront malnutrition with resolute decisiveness if the future of our children is to be secured.
“Even though malnutrition is the third underlying cause of a child mortality in the world, it is yet to receive the nature of high-profile campaigning and investment necessary to address it effectively, in comparison with other causes of child mortality such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. Consequently, while child mortality rate caused by malaria has shrunk by a third since 2000, child malnutrition has remained a huge challenge over the same period.
“To curb malnutrition, government must vote more money for nutrition and engage the civil society organizations to embark on massive sensitization of the masses against malnutrition. Parents as well must be educated on the need to give birth to the number of children they can adequately cater for. Nursing mothers should be sensitized on the important of balance diet to combat malnutrition. It is so sad that the country is loosing innocent children to malnutrition on a daily basis. A visit to children ward in any hospital will explain this better.
“It break my heart anytime I come across such cases. The sick child look pale and weak due to lack of good diet to build strong immunity against diseases, some of them don’t survived it. As a country that pride itself the giant of Africa, we ought to have overcome this challenge because some Africa countries that are not as blessed as ours can boost of good medical facilities. I wish the government can prioritise this important aspect to reduce the number of people lost to malnutrition. Vaccinating the children without good diet will be counter productive. All these cannot be achieved without stable income. To get stable income, the economy must improve. It is only when we have improved economy that people can feed well. In other words, malnutrition cannot be tackled if the poverty level is high,” he said.