Scary! How Nigeria loses over a 1000 children to malnutrition, daily

Malnourished children
Although not much is being heard about it in the media and it’s rarely a topic of discussion among the general public in Nigeria, child malnutrition kills more children than malaria and measles combined  

Malnourished children
Malnourished children

According to Nigeria’s ministry of health, over 1150 children lose their lives to malnutrition across Nigeria, on daily basis, a figure that is equal to the total number of child deaths in the country from other child killer diseases including measles and malaria.

This makes Nigeria the world’s second biggest contributor to under-five’s death, with India occupying the first position.

“Child malnutrition is a very serious issue in Nigeria,” said Chris Isokpunwu, head of nutrition division at the country’s ministry of health. “Almost 2,300 children die daily in Nigeria – half of which is as a result of malnutrition; it contributes about 53% to total number of under-five’s death in the country.”

Isokpunwu, who was speaking through Tokunbo Farayibi, a principal nutrition officer at the ministry, during a 3-day media dialogue on child malnutrition hosted by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, recently, said lack of awareness was one of the key contributing factors for malnutrition in Nigeria.

He advocated the need for the media to sensitize the general public on the benefits of balanced diet adding that whereas the rate of breastfeeding among nursing mothers was 78%; 41% of nursing mothers feed their newborns with water alongside breastfeeding.

According to the global medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, 1 in 5 out of the 15,000 children at Bama Internally Displaced Person’s camp were “suffering from acute malnutrition,” the Associated Press, AP, had reported this week. The camp which is located some 70km southeast of Maiduguri is host to 24,000 IDPs, out of which 200 had died of dehydration and starvation within just a month, including children.

“Whereas the rate of breastfeeding in Nigeria is commendably 78%, it is surprising that 41% of mothers do breastfeeding alongside feeding their babies with water, which is wrong for babies under 6 months, since the breast milk contains all the needed nutrients including water,” said Isokpunwu.

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“And looking at the budget of the Ministry of Health, in 2015, when the budget line for nutrition was created, only N40 million was allocated to nutrition, which is considerably low – compared to billions allocated to other programs like reproductive health.”

According to the global medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, 1 in 5 out of the 15,000 children at Bama Internally Displaced Person’s camp were “suffering from acute malnutrition,” the Associated Press, AP, had reported this week. The camp which is located some 70km southeast of Maiduguri is host to 24,000 IDPs, out of which 200 had died of dehydration and starvation within just a month, including children.

That Over 1200 children are dying from malnutrition on daily basis in Nigeria is very bad, and even more so that it is hidden; nobody wants to talk about it, we felt it is our responsibility to say it out, Geoffrey Njoku, UNICEF Nigeria’s communication specialist told African Newspage.

“we believe that journalists can help set the agenda for action against child malnutrition, by creating awareness among both citizens and leaders – that something is wrong somewhere and something must be done to avert a catastrophe,” said Njoku

Chido Onumah, coordinator of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, AFRICMIL, who was one of the facilitators of the UNICEF media dialogue said the malnutrition challenge had a lot to do with communication and lack of awareness for which the media can play ”an extremely important role” in arresting it.

“The situation is such that whereas the challenge has to do with poverty and lack of food, even in places where people have the right kind of food, they don’t know that they need to stay healthy,” said Onumah. “They will rather sell the nutritious food off and buy fancy one, therefore, the media can help expose the impact of malnutrition and what people need to do about it. Look at the media hype around HIV/AIDS and more recently Ebola; the media can also help raise awareness and resources to deal with the issue of malnutrition.”

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Jane Manafa, a presenter at Abuja’s Capital FM, who was a participant at the media dialogue, said the dialogue had exposed her to both the theory of what malnutrition is and its real consequences on the Nigerian child.

“The media has an important role to play in ending malnutrition, by sensitizing the public around the prevention of the child killer disease,” said Manafa. “This could be achieved through massive campaign to sensitize mothers, fathers and caregivers on the dangers of malnutrition as well as the need to balance the diets of their babies – and not just feed them.”

Ajuma Edwina Ogiri, a heath correspondent for the Abuja-based daily, Blueprint newspaper, also said she had gained a lot of knowledge on child malnutrition, having participated in the media dialogue.

“Having visited patients of child malnutrition at a local healthcare center, I have now realized that malnutrition is not necessarily about poverty; instead, ignorance and culture also play an important role in it,” she told African Newspage.

Child malnutrition, which is more prevalent in Nigeria’s northwestern and northeastern regions has a lot of short and long term negative socio-economic consequences including stunted growth in children, making newborns and infants more susceptible to infections like diarrhea and pneumonia, and therefore increasing their mortality rate.

Despite its apparent socio-economic consequences, there is an obvious lack of interest by governments at all levels on malnutrition, which can be seen in the fact that, until 2015, there was no budget line for nutrition in Nigeria and even when it was introduced, the allocation was a paltry sum of  N40 million, hence the need for concerted efforts by governments at all levels, NGOs, and the media towards eradicating the scourge which is capable of engendering wellbeing of the future generations of Nigerian leaders.

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