Experts list achievements, challenges encountered in fight against acute malnutrion in children

By Hassan Zaggi

Experts from different fields of human endeavor under a Consortium for the fight against Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in children in Nigeria have disclosed that despite the challenges encountered, they have been able to increase political will and commitment to improve funding for nutrition.

They made the disclosure during the presentation of lessons learned from the implementation of advocacy for prevention and treatment of SAM in Nigeria, in a well attended zoom meeting, recently.

Advocacy for the prevention and treatment of SAM project in Nigeria was implemented by a consortium of four organisations including Aisha Buhari Foundation (ABF), Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED), International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CiSLAC).

While presenting the achievements and lessons learned, the Chief Executive Officer of  Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED),  Dr Emmanuel Sokpo, said that one of the major achievement was the significant improvement in media coverage for SAM.

He revealed that  there was a 67.5% increase coverage in nutrition stories at the Federal level and across the five states.

Other achievements, he said, included: “Establishment of a CSO-Media coalition in the 5 focal states and at the Federal level with increased capacity for community mobilization, demand creation and stakeholder’s accountability for SAM.

“Increased political will and commitment to improve funding for nutrition.

“Harmonisation of health nutrition annual work plans from development partners and those from state government to enhance the principle of integrated management to align with Primary Health Care Under One Roof (PHCUOR) and increased private-public partnership on local production of RUTF.”

He noted that despite the achievements recorded, the project encountered a lot of challenges which he stressed included “irregular or delayed release of budgeted nutrition funds, difficulty in navigating the complex political economy especially after the 2019 general elections, few active sites for Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), other health system issues like inadequate nutrition work force, nutrition equipment and limited supply of RUTF and other SAM prevention commodities.

“Other challenges were the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Speaking on the many lessons learnt while implementing the project, Dr. Sokpo said: “The use of a multi-pronged approach to advocacy facilitates the reach and effectiveness of the advocacy messages and results.

“Understanding the political economy and power relations/dynamics of any government entity is necessary for project design and implementation

“Nutrition advocacy is more effective when it takes a wholistic look at nutrition rather than a single disease campaign approach for SAM

“Planning and budgeting are key integrated management tools that enhance effective advocacy for fund release.

“It is important to include many potential sources/avenues of mobilizing additional funds besides the traditional funding sources when advocating for increased funding from political leaders.

“Private Sector participation if given adequate attention has the capacity to sustain program goals by bringing on board innovative market approaches including the mobilisation of key influencers and domestic resources.”

In his remarks, the President, Association of Nigeria Health Journalists (ANHEJ), Malam Hassan Zaggi, applauded the consortium for the achievements recorded so far, vowing that journalists covering the health sector will continue to work with them for the good of all Nigerians.

The ANHEJ President said: “Even though SAM is still a very serious issue in Nigeria, one good thing we must admit is that, because of the  collective efforts of the Consortium and the media, governments at all levels and policy makers in the country are now aware that we have a problem in our hands.

“To us, this is an achievement, because the first step to solving a problem is identifying that it exists.

“I call on the governments at all levels to take ownership of the fight against SAM through increased budgetary provision. This is crucial and important.

“The federal government must support and encourage home-grown solutions to SAM, especially the production of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) from local raw materials.

“Our research institutes must wake up to the challenge by making efforts at finding simple remedies to SAM in the country.”

On her part, the Executive Director of International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH), Moji Makanjuola, recalled that the project started two and half years ago and was implemented by a consortium of four organisations.

She disclosed that the project was implemented at the federal level and in five focal states – Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano and Katsina over a period of 29 months; November 2018 to March 2021.

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