By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Amina Suleiman, is 3 years old, looking malnourished like a girl from a region ravaged by war. But Amina’s situation is not occasioned by starvation in war zone.
She lives in Dogo Dutse village of Nassarawa Toto local government area of Nasarawa state – far away from where the drums of war places food far from the reach of the children, forcing them to starve and die in the process.
The village where she lives is healthily cultivating varieties of food crops, which should keep her healthy. But Tukura Tanimu, the health official, who owns a facility in the community, told our reporter that the young girl’s situation is due to ignorance and illiteracy on the part of those taking care of her. “She lost her mother few months after birth and her grandmother who took care of her was ignorant of how best to raise her. She did not have the best care she needed when her mother died”.
At the health facility, Amina was seen drinking pap and yam porridge. She could barely hold the cup. She struggled with the food, obviously hungry but too weak to allow smooth passage of the food.
Tanimu said “the Fulani people feed mostly on their untreated cow milk. They don’t eat balanced diet. They only take their cow milk and lack of this balanced diet is the reason why she is in this condition. Most times the parents abandoned the children without proper care; they concentrate more on looking after their animals.
“Most times I try to explain to the community people the need for balanced died but the advocacy doesn’t go anywhere. This people do whatever they feel is right. Though there are varieties of food in the community but they mostly concentrate on one variety of food.
“Another major problem in this community is poor hygiene. Our people defecate openly within their homes. This kind of environment is not good for a child’s health”.
Speaking on how a baby should be catered for, a United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF), nutritionist, Bamidele Omotola said, “From birth, the baby should be fed from the mother’s breast for 6 months with no other foods or drinks. From 6 months the breast feeds should be complemented with other modified family foods called complementary foods as culturally available and ensuring that the feeds are made from at least 4 food groups while continuing breastfeeding up till about 2 years of age and as culturally appropriate.
“Breastfeeding practice is divided into 2 tranches of the first 6 months where the child only feed from the breast alone and there after continuing breastfeeding in addition to other foods for up to 24 months as culturally acceptable”
He however added that incase of death of the mother, “If the baby is under 6 months of age, a wet nurse certified to be free of any disease/infection /HIV /TB etc is preferred from the family of the parent willing to wet nurse the baby otherwise a breast milk substitute recommended by the health provided/nurse or doctor is recommended because at that state milk plays a vital role and there may not be an appropriate substitute. However, if the baby is above 6 months of age then appropriate complementary family diet is recommended with addition of a milk diet taken by other adults
He said malnutrition is largely due to inappropriate feeding, disease /infection or inappropriate care. “These are often influenced by a number of issues such as poor education of the mother which influences a lot of behavior, lack of empowerment or ability to take appropriate decision such as health seeking behaviours, cultural norms and influences.
•A child needs a healthy environment free of mosquitoes, clean good drinking water, defecation free environment safe water and foods etc.
•A malnourished child has to be assessed to understand the cause of the condition and treatment or management is thereafter provided as food may not only be the underlying cause.”
He said to avoid malnutrition, there should be appropriate feeding suitable and adequate to the child’s age, adequate care and stimulation, healthy environment and appropriate health seeking behavior should the child take ill.
Also while speaking recently during a media dialogue forum in Kano, UNICEF Education Specialist, Swadchet Sankey said adequate child-care is a critical element of the decent work agenda and investments in professionalization of the early childhood workforce contribute to full and productive employment, especially for women.
She however expressed worry that Nigeria does not have the fundamentals in place for a comprehensive approach to ECD, with an integrated multi-sectoral ECD policy, “the key indicators of child development outcomes in the country remain low.
•Current Policy needs to be reviewed to contain current thinking and an improved approach to delivering ECD across various platforms”.
She said “250 million children under five are unlikely to reach their potential because their development has been stunted by stress, lack of early stimulation and poor nutrition”. The effects, she said, will ultimately impact a country’s growth.
•Nigeria is amongst the top 10 countries contributing to 250 million children under five at risk of not reaching their potential. Over 60% of children under five in Nigeria are at risk of not reaching their development potential
•32.7% of children under five were left with inadequate care the week before the survey. 31.5% children under five are moderately and severely underweight.
Speaking further, she said UNICEF’s report on early childhood development, shows that “the period from conception to the start of school opens a critical and singular window of opportunity to shape the development of the child brain”
She added that the rapid brain growth that happens during this period of life is astounding. “At this time, brain connection form at an unrepeated speed, giving shape and depth to children’s cognitive emotional and social development-influencing their capacity to learn, to solve problem and to relate to others. This inturn has significant impact on their adult lives, affecting their ability to earn a living and contribute to their societies and their future happiness. But millions of this world’s disadvantaged children are missing this opportunity.
“A 20-years study shows that children from poor households who received high -quality stimulation at a young age earned an average of 25percent more as adults than those who did not receive these interventions. And yet, governments worldwide spend less than an estimated 2 percent of their education budgets on early childhood programmes”.
She however said “the time has come to pick up the pace and transform our knowledge about early childhood development in to investments and developments that supports families, communities and nations. It is time to act because we are losing the potentials of 43 percent of children in low and middle income countries.
Another UNICEF document on early childhood development said, “the science is clear: A child’s brain is built, not born. The process begins before birth and involves a complex interplay of neutral connections that are shaped by experience and environment. In the early years, these neutral connections occur at lightning speed- a speed never again repeated. They establish a foundation of development that will help children grow, learn and thrive. This process is fuelled by adequate nutrition, protection from harm and responsive stimulation including early learning opportunities.
“Unfortunately, millions of children around the world are deprived of the ingredients that foster optimal brain development. They do not have nutritious food or health care. Most of these children come from the world deprived communities in under developed nations”.
These are some of the issues that make Amina to be in this condition. Despite being born in an agrarian society, ignorance about proper nutrition on the part of those who raised her and poor government intervention in her community has placed her at the mercy of God and notable non governmental organisations like UNICEF which has registered its presence in the hard to reach areas.