By Chioma Umeha
Worried by the growing burden of malnutrition among children under five years, stakeholders have been urged to prioritise tracking of resources allocated to nutrition in various tiers of government.
The goal is to ensure appropriate implementation to curb the ugly trend of malnutrition.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria loses over $1.5 billion in GDP annually to vitamin and mineral deficiencies alone.
According to experts, Nigeria needs N2.87 trillion, an equivalent of $912 million to tackle the scourge of child malnutrition which is presently ravaging the country.
Dr Chris Osa Isokpunwu, Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) disclosed this recently at a meeting which was organised by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
He added that about N2.8 billion is required within the next five years to tackle the menace of child malnutrition in the country.
He noted that this investment would help avert 890,000 stunting in five years and save about 123,000 lives annually.
Isokpunwu noted that the budget for child nutrition was created for the first time in Nigeria in 2014, describing child malnutrition as “a silent killer which has to be stopped” in view of its devastating consequences.
He observed that the national budget provided only N2.4 million for child nutrition in 2016, while nothing was provided in the 2015 budget and N30 million was provided in 2014, but was not released.
Isokpunwu who stressed the need for adequate funding for child nutrition, observed that if government fails to address the issue of malnutrition in children under the age of five, all efforts at reducing death among children under the age bracket would be counter-productive.
He explained that the National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition (NSPAN) 2014-2019 was designed to improve the nutritional status throughout the lifecycle of Nigerian people, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups including women of reproductive age and children under five years of age.
According to him, the NSPAN has the targets of reducing the number of under-five children who are stunted by 20 per cent by 2019; reducing low birth weight by 15 per cent by 2019; ensuring no increase in childhood overweight by 2019.
Others are reducing and maintaining childhood wasting to less than 10 per cent by 2019; reducing anaemia in women of reproductive age by 50 per cent by 2019 and increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first six months to at least 50 per cent by 2019.
Isokpunwu, therefore, stressed the need to develop a specific and fully funded budget line for nutrition in the annual state budget, increase public sector budget for nutrition.
He further canvassed for specific interventions to be progressively increased and strengthened health systems.
The Head Nutrition also stressed on the need to ensure that nutrition is integrated in all related policy areas – Agriculture, Gender, Wash and Planning.
A Nutrition Specialist at the Port Harcourt office of UNICEF, Ngozi Onuora, in a paper entitled “Child Nutrition Situation in South-East and South-South Zones of Nigeria,” lamented that every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five-year-olds and 145 women of childbearing age as a result of malnutrition.
This, she said, dents the country’s image as the second largest contributor to the under-five and maternal mortality rate in the world.
Onuorah outlined the challenges of combating the scourge to include, inadequate government commitment and funding for nutrition programmes, capacity gap in the implementing partners programme officers and poorly motivated workforce.
Others are poor attitude of health workers and poor coordination of Maternal Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) in the States among others as challenges.
She observed that in order to address the alarming rate of under-nutrition in the country, there must be an increased Government and private investment in nutrition.
This she said could be achieved either as co-financing or direct funding of nutrition specific and sensitive interventions to increase access of all needy children to nutrition services.
She called for adequate funding of MNCH to ensure that all needy children have access to nutrition services as part of the child survival programme.
Ken Ozoemena, a Social Policy Specialist, UNICEF Enugu, speaking on Children Friendly Budgeting: Addressing Child Malnutrition, observed that effects of malnutrition are often irreversible if nutrition is not optimised within the first 1000 days of a child.
Ozoemena, however, noted that government is not meeting its commitments to children supposedly due to budget constraints adding that the realisation of the rights of children as enshrined in UNCRC demands adequate budgetary allocation to sectors that directly impact survival and development of children.
He said that placing children at the centre of the development planning would allow for sustainable socio-economic development for all people.