By Hassan Zaggi
There is no doubt, the challenge of severe acute child malnutrition in the north eastern part of Nigeria has reached an alarming rate.
Even though international agencies including the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF), UK Department for International Development (DfID) in partnership with the federal government are doing a lot to rescue the situation, need more to be done.
In fact, it is time for all stakeholders including governments at the state and local levels and community leaders to get deeply involved in the intervention to ensure that the future of Nigeria, especially, the north east is secured.
The involvement by all is more necessary now because, if the current generation of millions of children born in the north east are allowed to be ‘destroyed’ by severe acute malnutrition, it means, the future of the north is not bleak.
If the saying that children are the future of any society is true, then with the acute malnutrition situation in the north east, it clearly means that the region is in deep trouble as it will not have leaders who can properly think and resolve issues in the future.
This assertion is premise on the fact that, according to medical experts, early childhood malnutrition affects the cognitive abilities of a child. He/she grows not to have a well developed brain.
The bleak future of the northern part of the Nigeria is very glaring and very close. This is more so, because, according to experts, 1 in every 2 children are stunted in North East and North West.
Findings revealed that stunting among children can have long‐term effects on cognitive development, school achievement, economic productivity in adulthood and maternal reproductive outcomes.
Some of the major causes of stunting among children include intrauterine growth retardation, inadequate nutrition to support the rapid growth and development of infants and young children.
Speaking at a 2-day media dialogue on management of severe acute malnutrition with selected journalists, in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, a Nutrition Consultant, Bamidele Davis Omotola, revealed that 50 per cent of children in the 12 northern states are stunted while only 20 per cent of children in the rest of the country are stunted.
The media dialogue was put together by UNICEF in partnership with the Federal Ministry of the Information and Culture with funding from UK Department for International Development (DfID).
According to Omotola: “One Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) case for every 6 children are reported in 3 North Eastern emergency states and one SAM case for every 7 children are reported in 9 northern none emergency states, while only one SAM case for every 7.1 children is reported in the rest of the country.”
Responding to questions exclusively from The AUTHORITY, Omotola, however, called on the governments at all levels in the northern part of the country to rise to the challenge and confront the child malnutrition situation head-long before it gets out of hand.
He identified failure of governance in the north as the major contributing factor to the child malnutrition situation in the region.
According to him: “It is a failure of governance in the north. We have the greatest number of children out of school in the north, the number of women that did not go to school in the north are high. Why did their women not go to school? Why are their children not in school? Those critical things are not prioritized for people in the north.
“Poverty is prevalent in the north, no industries, they depended on the fact that people should be doing farming. They only do subsistence farming, just to get what to eat.
“It is a failure of governance because the potential resources are not used to develop the people. The people are not aware, they are not knowledgeable and they are not given the skills to be able do that.
“The indirect methods and approaches that are being used are not also helping. Women are not empowered to take decision.”
He further called for a change of attitude among leaders of the north in order to reverse the situation.
“People in the north should look at the issues and proffer a way of solving them and not anybody dictating to them from outside. Other regions in the country are moving but the north is stagnant,” he advised.
What govts, communities can do
On his part while speaking exclusively with The AUTHORITY, UNICEF official in Adamawa State, Dr. Martins Jackson, insisted that increased support by the government and communities in the north will go a long way in halting the acute child malnutrition situation in the north.
According to him, despite the support provided by international agencies like DfID, UNICEF and many others, there is the need for governments at both the local and state levels in the north to intervene, especially in the area of the provision of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF).
“You could see that there are more local governments that need to have access to this intervention, we are looking forward to government to come forward and provide the needed support- specifically in the provision of RUTF.
“Presently, in the DFiD supported project, we are only in three local government areas in Yobe while nine local governments areas in Borno State.
“However, more can be done when we get support from the government,” Dr. Jackson said.
On community involvement, Dr. Jackson said: “ The communities can assist us in active case finding. Active case finding is being able to identify children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in time before it gets worst as well as adopting good behavioural practices including good healthcare habit so that the situation don’t deteriorate before they start seeking for medical attention; the culture of appropriate feeding practice and exclusive breastfeeding.”
It is believed that with the persistent efforts of the international organizations, the consistent involvement of the governments at all levels and the communities in the north, acute child malnutrition, will, in the next few years, be a thing of the past in northern part of the Nigeria.