By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
Worried by the level of malnutrition in the northeastern part of the country, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) has donated 18.5 billion Naira (£41 million) to curb malnutrition in Yobe and Borno states.
The two neighbouring northeastern states have a lot in common; they share the same culture, agriculture, religion and topography.
Unfortunately, on the negative side, the two states have become theater of war, owing to the activities of the dreaded Boko Haram sect. Aside that, there is high poverty rate, food insecurity and child marriage, which many pundits believe are drivers of infant and young child malnutrition.
Also, the Emergency Nutrition Network has estimated that 943, 000 children under five years old across Borno and Yobe states are acutely malnourished; 440,000 with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 503,000 with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).
Speaking at a 2-day media dialogue in Borno on Child Malnutrition, organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the Child Right Information Bureau (CRIB) a department in the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF, Aminu Usman, stated specifically that out of the fund, Borno will get £36million while Yobe state will get £5million for malnutrition response projects from April 2019 to March 2022.
At the workshop tagged; “integrated and timely response to nutrition-related humanitarian needs”, Usman assured that the funds will help curb the challenges faced by the people.
According to him, the Borno project, tagged “flexible integrated and timely (FIT) Project: Multi-sectoral nutrition project” is aimed at detecting emerging/deteriorating nutrition-related crises in the state through an agile nutrition surveillance system, providing timely response through the implementation of an integrated basic nutrition package.
He said the Yobe project which is tagged “working to Improve nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN), is aimed at improving maternal and young child nutrition in the north.
Usman further informed that DFID has also donated the sum of N18.5billion for procurement of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) in three Northeast states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
He further stressed that there is need for a robust contigency plan to absorb any shock in the affected areas as nutrition sector report has estimated that 258,950 children will be affected by severe acute malnutrition in 2020.
“There is a gap of N4.4 billion needed to necessitate the procurement of ready to use therapeutic food for severe acute malnutrition treatment in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states”.
Usman further urged the government to ensure increased funding to meet the nutritional needs of the citizens especially the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as there had been an influx of IDPs which further exacerbated the already poor nutrition situation in that part of the country.
He said despite the DFID intervention, malnutrition is still at an emergency level in the region, requiring more funding from state governments.
However, Sanjay Kumar Das, Nutrition Manager for UNICEF Maiduguri Office said despite the emergency situation in the northeast, the situation is improving.
“The situation of malnutrition is in an emergency state because global acute malnutrition in Borno state is 11percent. And according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), if the situation is more than 10percent, it is an emergency. There is an urgency to address the situation. But if you look at the situation compared to the last 3 years, there is improvement. In 2018, we estimated 440, 000 Severe Acute Malnutrition cases; in 2019, 371,000 while in 2020, we are estimating 209,000; cases of severe acute malnutrition. With these statistics, I will assure you that there is improvement.
He said some of the things that increases malnutrition in those states include; food insecurity, poor hygiene and poor health care services. “ With poor healthcare services in these states, there is also increase in childhood illnesses which must be addressed to provide a brighter future for children.
“Malnourished children are prone to diseases. Also, there is increase in under five mortality. We need more investment, to solve the problem. And there is need for continuous sensitization and education of the population to be aware of the dangers posed by malnutrition.”
He said that insecurity has also denied people access to quality healthcare and food.
But a Communication expert who is familiar with the activities in the northeast, Hajiya Maryam Garba Hassan, said poverty, early marriage and lack of education were the major reasons for malnutrition in Yobe and Borno states before the advent of Boko Haram.
“Today, there is high level of poverty in the states of Yobe and Borno which has contributed to he high level of malnutrition. Mothers don’t have money to buy good food and they don’t also know the proper food to give to their children. Despite these problems, some parents are having large number of children more than they can take care of, despite the various methods of birth control available. Because of this problem, there are more female children that are out of school and given to early marriage. When this girl child with no education gives birth to her own baby, she doesn’t know the best food for a child and because of this ignorance, when she begins to sense that the child is malnourished, instead of going to the hospital, she will visit a herbalist, believing it is a spiritual problem.
She called for mass sensitisation campaign in the northeast to educate both men and women to be aware of these dangers. “The men should be carried along so that they will provide the necessary assistance to their wives when the need arises. If the wife is the only one being educated on the dangers of malnutrition, she might not curb it alone because the husband, if not educated will become a stumbling block to anything the wife wants to do.
“Some northern parents still believe that western education is not good for the girl child for fear of exposure. This believe usually affects the young girls when they get married. When those children have their own babies at that stage, the baby suffers and in most cases malnourished.
“There is a lot of gap here and there is need for urgent attention to address some of these challenges. The young girls and their parents need to know the importance of education so as to bring up children free from these challenges.”
To ensure success, a military medical personnel familiar with the region who does not want her name in print said a state of emergency in the northeastern part of the country is necessary to address malnutrition.
“They need health services. Also, there is massive destruction in the north east, we need to cry out now to address this. Majority of women don’t know how to properly take care of their children. Most are teenage mothers. They need skills on how to train babies and feed them with breast milk. They need basic skills and need to do their best. Women need health care and capacity in the society.”
Speaking on the critical situation in the northeast, she said a lot needs to be done to stamp out the rampant cases of malnutrition in northeastern states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa.
Specifically, she said malnutrition in Nigeria is prevalent in the northern region, with over 25 million under five children suffering from malnutrition while over 10 million affected by stunted growth.
She said “The situation and indices of malnutrition in the North Eastern part of Nigeria remains precarious, the under 5 mortality rate in these areas exceeds the threshold of 10,000 deaths recorded among children under the age of five daily”.
She further identified insurgency, poverty, lack of education, gender issues amongst others as the drivers of malnutrition in the region.
“There is high rate of illiteracy here and young girls are being married without any formal education. There is need to ensure that these young girls are educated so as to enable them take care of their children. We need a lot of sensitization in this part of the country so as to address these challenges.”
She said there is need for adequate investment in nutrition, which she said will help reduce the negative trend of malnutrition and tackle the issue of stunting, wasting and obesity to its minimal level”.
She said poor food security, sub-optimal water, as well as poor water hygiene and sanitation has further fueled poor nutrition in Nigeria.
“Malnutrition is an emergency situation in Nigeria, we need an integrated approach from all sectors to tackle this emergency”.
“Malnutrition has led to almost 50 percent deaths in children, high mortality rate, irreversible brain damage and compromised intellectual capacity in adulthood as well as over 16 percent loss of the nation’s gross domestic product”.
“Malnutrition can be curbed through creating sustainable and resilient food system, providing nutrition related education for all, monitoring food fortification and ending conflicts, providing free food supplement to children and pregnant women. The illiterate population can get the right information through continuous education and counselling of caregivers on how to adequately feed their children and wards.”