By Hassan Zaggi
She was sitting, leaning her body on the wall of a building at the back of the clinic. She looked weak, the eight-month-old baby in her hands looked visibly sick and malnourished. The mother and her child looked helpless and dejected.
The 24-year-old Iyagana Abacha, mother of three who hails from Mafa Local Government Area where she was displaced from, has been in the Muna Garage Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Marte Local Government Area of Borno State since the past five years.
The Muna Garage IDPs camp which is densely populated is said to be one of the largest in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.
At around few minutes to 11am when our correspondent visited, the health workers who were recruited by the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF) in the clinic were already stressed up because, according to them, they have attended to many people. “This is the situation everyday,” one of the health workers said.
“I am not feeling fine and my baby has been having fever since the past few days. I am here to get medicine for myself and the baby. We were here yesterday, but they told us to come again today. I have been here since morning but was yet to be attended to.
“I have been in this camp since the past five years when the Boko Haram invaded our local government. Getting food to eat is a major challenge because most of the people that usually bring food for us no more come as regular as they used to do. They only come here once in a while, it is our husbands that go out and whatever they get is what we will use. Sometimes, they don’t even get anything.
“My children are sick because of lack of food (malnutrition) and I have to bring this small one to the clinic for treatment including myself because I am not feeling fine,” Iyagana said.
This is the pathetic situation of Iyagana and her 8-months-old baby, and in fact, many of the residents of the IDPs camp.
Going round the IDPs camp, one could see man’s level of wickedness and inhumanity to his fellow man. One could see suffering, hunger and malnourished children receiving treatment and others in the arm of their mothers.
This is even as the child malnutrition situation in the north east is said to be getting worst by the day.
Speaking at a three-day media dialogue organised by the Child Right Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in partnership with UNICEF on children undernutrition in Maiduguri, recently, Prof. Garba Mohammed Ashir of the Institute of Child Health Research, University of Maiduguri, noted that even though Nigeria is home to the third largest population of chronically undernourished (stunted) children in the world, the north east and north western regions of the country have the worst concentration of child malnutrition outcomes.
Prof. Ashir who spoke on the cost of child malnutrition revealed that hidden hunger is also pervasive in the country.
He disclosed that up to 45% of all preventable child deaths are attributable to undernutrition and that Severe Acute Malnourished (SAM) children are up to nine times more likely to die than well-nourished children.
Also speaking, the UNICEF Nutrition Specialist in Borno State, Ifeanyi Maduanisi, said that the child malnutrition situation in the north east is not showing some improvement.
“The data we are seeing from different surveillance and analysis, it is actually indicating that the child malnutrition situation is not actually improving. But that does not mean that we have not had gains.
“In 2016 to around 2018, there were some gains, but those gains were not sustained. It was reversed from 2019 to date,” he said.
While calling for what he described as a multi-sectoral approach to tackle the child malnutrition situation in the north east, Maduanisi, said: “I am advocating for multi-sectoral kind of planning to combat child malnutrition in such a way that both food security, livelihood, nutrition section, health, water, sanitation and hygiene are done together to give a synergistic impact.”
Apart from the general insecurity in the north east, he disclosed that socio cultural believe is another driver that fuels malnutrition in children in the region.
“Part of the drivers of the malnutrition we have in the north east aside of the conflict and the attendant consequences like displacement, loss of livelihood, destruction of infrastructure and basic services, there is issue of socio-cultural believe and behaviours.
“These things take time to address. You don’t change these behaviours overnight.
“But it becomes aggravated when there is no environment for people to adopt good behavior.”
Corroborating the already worst child malnutrition situation in the north east, the UNICEF Chief of Field Office in Borno State, Samuel Sesay, expressed concern that malnutrition is the biggest threat to child survival and development in the north east.
“There is no sugar coating it- malnutrition is the underlining cause of nearly half of all deaths in under-five children globally and it is currently the biggest threat to child survival and development in northeast Nigeria.
“Households in the region are experiencing unprecedented levels of food crisis and hunger.
“Household food insecurity, poor infant and young child feeding and care practices, as well as poor feeding environment, hygiene, and health services have been identified as the underlying causes of undernutrition in children.
“In North-East Nigeria, however, conflict, multiple displacements, destruction of sources of livelihood for households, destruction of basic infrastructures and services, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic are peculiar contributors to the growing number of children affected by undernutrition.
“The importance of good nutrition on children’s development is enormous, with far-reaching impact on child education, health, adult earning power, individual and family finance as well as the country’s economy. Therefore, it is unacceptable that children continue to bear the greatest burden of conflict, climate change and COVID-19. Ensuring good nutrition in children helps families and is a cheaper route to nation-building.”
There is, therefore, the need for the governments of the three north eastern states of the Borno, Adamawa and Yobe to increase their funding for nutrition.
In fact, the three states must, as a matter of urgency, take full ownership of the fight against child malnutrition in the region considering that support from international agencies is dwindling.
As a first step, the governments must make deliberate efforts in ensuring that women, especially, in the rural communities are educated on how to blend local foods to prepare nutritious diet for children.
Also, some archaic cultural norms that prevents children from being given body-building foods should be preached against and new knowledge impacted on the residents of the region.
The federal government must do everything within its powers to end the insecurity situation in the region. This will enable the displaced residents of the region to return to their ancestral homes and continue fully their economic activities, as it is clear that poverty is a major contributing factor to child malnutrition in the region.