By Asmau Ahmad
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has appealed to governments at all levels and relevant stakeholders to increase budgeting for nutrition to reverse the trend of malnutrition among Nigerian children.
UNICEF Nutrition Officer, Ms Nkeiru Enwelum, made the appeal on Wednesday in Port Harcourt during a two-day media dialogue on ‘Nutrition Financing in Nigeria’.
Her presentation was titled “Nutrition Situation in Nigeria: An Overview of Malnutrition in Nigeria and Its Impact on Children.”
She added that more funding was required to help carry out sensitisation and advocacy campaigns in remote areas, as well as provide succour for children facing severe malnutrition in the country.
Citing the National Demographic and Health Survey 2018, she said that about 12 million out of the 35 million under-five children in Nigeria were stunted due to malnutrition.
Also, that one in three Nigerian children was suffering from stunting.
Ms Enwelum listed the forms of malnutrition to be acute malnutrition, severe wasting, stunting and obesity.
She described stunting to be a form of malnutrition which occurs when a child has low height for his age and stunting as a form of malnutrition referred to as chronic malnutrition because it happens over a long period of time.
She added that the effect of stunting could contribute to developmental delays and impair cognitive development.
The nutrition officer said that in a child, it could have an effect on the school performance and also his productivity up until adulthood.
Enwelum disclosed that Nigeria ranks first in Africa on data on malnourished children and second in the world.
She also said that about one million people suffer from acute food insecurity, adding that about 17.7 million people are hungry in Nigeria.
“The states with the highest number of people suffering from food insecurity in Nigeria are Kano and Lagos.
“In spite of the fact that Kano, Borno, Katsina and Lagos rank high in the food insecurity ladder, malnutrition is wide spread in the country, affecting people living in other parts of the country.
“Some of the diseases or resultant body malfunctions arising from malnutrition are micro nutrient deficiency, anaemia, ricket and vitamin A deficiency.”
To address the issue, Enwelum said that emphasis should be placed on implementing malnutrition prevention, interventions and approaches.
She also advocated for good food for children and access to all necessary food supplements such as vitamin A supplementation, adding that preventing malnutrition was cheaper than treating malnutrition.
According to her, government needs to implement a multi-sectoral action to ensure that all the sectors and stakeholders work together to deliver on all the nutrition interventions and priority for children.
She presented an assessment of the progress made on interventions in the health sector, saying that exclusive breastfeeding was the only aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals that Nigeria was making progress and may likely meet the target by 2030.
In an address, UNICEF Communication Specialist, Mr Geoffrey Njoku, reiterated that the dialogue was intended to identify funding gaps in national and state budgets.
This, he said, was to address issues of child malnutrition and how to close the gaps across the country.