By Chioma Umeha
More than1,594,462 Nigerian children in the States from the North West are presently suffering from malnutrition, even as the region is fighting to free them from the monster.
The estimate which is from the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also showed that Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-fives every day, making the country, second largest contributor to the under-five deaths the world.
Similarly, UNICEF’s estimate stated that there are 2,539,704 malnourished Nigerian children which the agency categorised as those that have been adversely affected by Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
It was further learnt that seven States in the zone accounts for more than 75 per cent of the total severe malnutrition cases recorded in Nigeria last year.
According to reports, the governments of Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina and SokotoStates are, however, taking measures to provide medication to affected women and children, and prevent new cases.
In Kaduna, which has an estimated 263,495 cases of acutely malnourished children aged six to 59 months last year, the State government and UNICEF had injected more than N824 million the same period to tackle the menace.
The government had also made a provision of N137 million in this year’s budget for the procurement of therapeutic food and drugs for the management of acute malnutrition.
Jane Gwani, the Nutrition Officer in the State Ministry of Health and Human Resources said in a report that strategies adopted so far, were helping to reverse the situation.
Gwanialso said that the State currently operates 17 Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) centres.
Dr Florence Oni, UNICEF’s Nutrition Specialist in the State, however, said there was need to do more, given the number of children suffering from malnutrition in the state.
She noted that current high cost of food items was hampering ongoing fight against malnutrition in the country.
Also, Mr. Silas Ideva, Chairman of the State chapter of Civil Society Scaling-Up Nutrition in Nigeria, said governments in the zone must improve budgetary allocation for nutrition sensitive and specific interventions.
The chairman, who attributed the increasing rate of malnutrition in the northern part the country to ignorance, called for massive awareness campaign on good nutrition practice in the region.
In Kebbi, the government says it is working with UNICEF to provide nutrition support to the 216,795 estimated to be acutely malnourishedlast year.
The figure did not include the over 500, 000 children that are stunted in the State.
It was further learnt that the government had spent N100 million last year on the matter, and according to ArjanDewatt, UNICEF’s Chief Nutritionist in the State, the collaboration would reduce maternal and child death.
Dewattsaid the joint effort was also aimed at improving the nutritional status of pregnant women and children under five years in the State.
Reports from Kano State indicate that no fewer than 55, 000 children were treated for acute malnutrition last year, a figure which is far short of the estimated 397,515.
DrAyodejiOsunkentan, a Consultant Nutritionist with UNICEF, however, said that the level of malnutrition in the State was being controlled with support from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation through CMAM.
He said that with more commitment and proactiveness of the government, the issue of malnutrition would be eliminated completely.
Also commenting, a nutritionist with the State ministry of health, Malam Murtala Ibrahimsaid that 54 per cent of child death in the State was due to malnutrition, and stressed that government must employ the services of experts to address the situation.
“The government can only make proper intervention by employing qualified nutritionists who can provide intensive awareness campaign on how to tackle the problem.”
The Nutritionist explained that the government had started making efforts by introducing courses on nutrition in its tertiary institutions.
In Katsina State, the government said it had treated no fewer than 245,789 malnourished children between 2010 and last year.
UNICEF record indicates that the State has an estimated acute malnutrition case of up to 278,079 in 2016 alone.
HajiyaRabiya Muhammad, the State Nutrition Officer, confirmed that a total of 318, 689 children were admitted for malnutrition ailment in the last six years.
Muhammad explained that the State has 105 CMAM centers in the 15 out of the 34 local government areas in the State.
The nutritionist said the support of development partners had helped to reduce the high rate of malnutrition in the State.
The officer attributed the high rate of malnutrition cases to poverty and ignorance on the part of mothers on how to prepare nutritious diet.
According to reports,Katsina state is the second State in the Northwest with highest number of malnourished children.
Reports from Zamfara indicated that the level of government intervention is quite disparagingas the State recorded an estimated 68,382 children and mothers with acute malnutrition last year.
Alhaji Isa Maru, the State Communication Officer of Save the Children, however, said the government has agreed to provide additional funding in its 2017 budget for nutrition programmes.
The State Commissioner for Health, DrBalarabeKakale, also said the government has resolved to set up a factory to produce the supplement – Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) – to make it cheaper instead of buying it from abroad.
Kakale said: “The State government can no longer afford to continue to spend on the importation of RUTF which is produced from groundnut paste.
“In the past, ‘we import Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) from South Africa and United States, however, we are now working to stop that, we will soon start producing it right here in Sokoto.
“RUTF is highly nutritious and is made from groundnut paste, this is the first step of boosting nutrition to have intelligent children.”
Also, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, AlhajiAlmustapha Othman, said the government had conducted a scientific research and feasibility study on the planned production of the food.
“The research was undertaken by a team of scientists and nutritionists from the ministry, UsmanuDanfodiyo University, Sokotoamong other stakeholders, and the findings showed the availability of all the ingredients required for the RUTF.
Alhaji Ali Hamza, the State Nutritionist,observed that CMAM sites had been set up in nine local government areas of the State with 46 centres distributing the RUTF.
Paul Mudzongo, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist in Sokoto, said: “Governments should ensure adequate funding and timely release of funds for nutrition budget line and increasing the nutrition budget allocation.
“They should also fully integrate nutrition in revitalization of primary health care,” Mudzongo said.
There were an estimated 167,364 acute malnutrition cases last year, in Jigawa , even as various intervention strategies which are ongoing are being adopted to tackle the issue, according to reports.