Why South-South, South-East children are malnourished

December 22nd, 2017

The future of three and half –years-old Chidie­bere Mba, from Awgu Local Government Area of Enugu State is being threat­ened as a result of malnutrition.
Looking straight to his face, one could hear a voice inside him saying, “why deny me the chance to be like other boys of my age around the world.” He looks weak, emaciated and his eyes are pale. His mother, Ce­lestina Mba, is not different.
One could also see the pain inside him considering that Chidiebere was ‘fortunate’ to be born in a region that is not poor by all standards. He was also born in a region that is fair­ly enlightened and where there are varieties of nutritious foods for him to eat and grow like other children in other parts of the country.
It is unfortunate, howev­er, that little Mba and his likes in the south -south and south- eastern part of the country have to contend with life with their brains not as sharp and active as those of their counterparts who were exclusively breastfeed and also got proper nutrition within the first 1000 days of life.
According to experts, the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age three) open a critical and singular window of opportunity. During this pe­riod, children’s brains can form 1,000 neural connections every second.
According to statistics, in 2016, the South-East recorded 34,889 child malnutrition cases and 6,700 deaths; South-South had 86,304 malnourished chil­dren out of which 16,700 died.
The worrisome and avoid­able level of malnutrition in the South-South and South-East was the high point of dis­cussion as a two-day media dialogue put together by the Federal Ministry of Informa­tion in collaboration with the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Enugu, last week.
The questions thus are: Why are children in South-South and South- East malnour­ished considering the variety of foods, wealth, literacy level and exposure of residents of the region? Who is to blame and who needs to take urgent ac­tion to reverse the ugly trend?
However, investigation by The AUTHORITY revealed that the increasing level child malnutrition in the South-South and South-East is the failure of both the government and community leaders. Cul­ture and traditions, ignorance and lackadaisical attitude of the mothers are other factors.
Speaking with The AU­THORITY exclusively, a nutri­tion officer at the Enugu State Ministry of Health, Henrietta Ugwu, argued that some com­munity norms aggravate child malnutrition in the region.
Teenage pregnancy
According to her: “In this zone, we have seen that teen­age pregnancy contributes im­mensely to child malnutrition.
“Some communities allow teenage girls to get pregnant. To them, it is not immoral. Un­fortunately, they do not provide for and take care of the young mothers and their babies. In this case you will see a teen­age girl that does not have any source of livelihood bringing up a child and eventually the child may not be healthy due to lack of proper nutrition.”
Another reason, according to her, is ignorance.
“People talk about food se­curity but do not know about nutrition security. You may have all that it takes to give a child, but if you do not have the knowledge of what to combine and at what quantity, then you may not also achieve what is re­quired,” she noted.
She further explained that il­literacy is also a major contrib­uting factor to child malnutri­tion in these regions.
Working mothers re­fusing to breastfeed to maintain their shape
She noted that some work­ing class child-bearing moth­ers, in an effort to maintain their shape and meet up with other office demands, decide to reject the idea of exclusive breast feeding.
“Some claim they have nan­nies, but I assure you that a nanny or any other care giv­er cannot do for you what you can do for your child no mat­ter the instruction. As a moth­er you have a lot to do with the child more than any other per­son. When you fail to exclusive­ly breasfeed, anything you see when the child grows up, you take it.”
Shortage of nutrition officers
While explaining that her of­fice always go round health fa­cilities in the state to educate women about nutrition and how to use what they have to prepare nutritious foods, the nutritionists, however, lament­ed that the nutrition officers are grossly inadequate.
“How many nutritionists do we have in the Enugu state and even in these two regions?
“We are working but we are not enough. One nutrition fo­cal person per LGA is not good enough. An LGA may have up to 36 communities, how will one person go round and col­lect data and do everything.
“We even have community support groups that support breastfeeding, but they are volunteers, they are not being paid,” she lamented.
It is therefore, a general con­sensus among experts inter­viewed by The AUTHORITY that for child malnutrition to be tackled in the two regions, there is the urgent need for the state governments to recruit more nutritionists. They should also train and retrain volun­teers from the communities to assist in educating mothers on how to prepare nutritious foods for both themselves and their children.
The governments must also increase, release and imple­ment their budgetary provi­sions for nutrition at both the state and local levels.

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