Journalists advocate aggressive campaign against malnutrition

Rebecca Mu’azu, Gombe

Journalists after a three-day UNICEF Media Dialogue on Child Malnutrition, held in Kano have suggested that more aggressive campaigns were needed to end the dangerous trend of child malnutrition in Nigeria.

They believe that when parents, religious and community leaders at all levels join the campaign, children in the country will no longer die from lack of nutrients in their bodies, because ignorance on the kinds of food to eat or give children has brought about the child killer condition in the country.

According to the participants, who were drawn from all media, including the new platform, the social media, aggressive campaigns became imperative in view of the huge burden child malnutrition is placing on the future and development of the country.

The National Nutrition Health Survey of 2015 by the Federal Ministry of Health shows that about 2,300 children, under the age of five, die daily in Nigeria and that malnutrition accounts for over half of the deaths.

The data also shows that more than a half of those deaths from malnutrition occur in northern Nigeria.

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The survey puts the number of children with acute malnutrition in northern Nigeria at 2.2 million.

This report seems contradictory, but according to Wikipedia, “Malnutrition or malnourishment is a condition that results from eating a diet in which nutrients are either not enough or are too much, such that the diet causes health problems”.

Also, Mr. Jeffery Njoku of the Communication Section of UNICEF, says child malnutrition can be caused by lack of food and also not giving the right kind of food to children.

Lack of food causes malnutrition, but we also say it is not just lack of food. Occasionally, the right kind of food is not given to a baby. For instance when you give a child in the morning akamu (pap) and then in the afternoon you give the child tuwo and then in the night you give the child another tuwo or you boil yam. That child has not eating anything. You just filled her tummy with carbohydrate. But something as simple as, when you are making the akamu and you add kosai (akara) to it, you are already beginning to balance it” Mr. Njoku said.

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Also, a Principal Nutrition Officer with the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria, Mr. Faraibi Tokumbo, says malnutrition is when people do not eat right.

“ people do not consume or absorb the right amount of food or types of food that require for their normal growth. One of the reasons why the rate of malnutrition is high in the north is one, despite the fact that they produce more of the farm produce, most of the farm produce have not been consumed and malnutrition simply means ’when  you eat, eat varieties’. Then another issue is, even when they are consuming it, are they consuming the right proportion or do they cook it very well? So malnutrition is more pronounced in northern states because of a lot of factors and one of them is not consuming what they produce and also the issue of not consuming the right and adequate food,” Mr. Tokumbo said.

Various factors are said to be responsible for malnutrition, such as lack of dietary diversity, lack of exclusive breast feeding, infectious diseases and ignorance.

However, it is really ironical that northern Nigeria which produces most of the food in the country is more affected by malnutrition.

After analysing the trend in northern Nigeria, it was discovered that some parents and or some heads of households in the region do not place much priority on the feeding of their homes and particularly infants. They prefer eating variety outside, why the household is fed on anything that is available without nutrients for growth and development of the body.

These are believed to be traditions developed over time by a group of people, depending on where they may be.

Some of the examples of these traditional beliefs are that, some of the traditional set-ups do not give eggs to children because they believe that would lead the child to steal in the future, while some traditions do not allow women to eat chicken. In some cases also, pregnant women eat less of nutritious foods and end up being malnourished themselves.

This has been a burden for some time and governments, UNICEF, NGOs and development partners have collaborated to find solutions to the problem.

One of such solutions is the Media Dialogue which UNICEF has been holding over the years.

It was held recently in Kano, being part of northern Nigeria, another state with huge burden of child malnutrition.

During the three-day programme, participants visited one of the intervention centres, known as the Community Based Acute Malnutrition Management Centre, in Sharada, Kano where children with malnutrition get treated.

The facility measures the level of malnutrition in a child and provides him or her with food interventions that can help boost the nutrition of the child.

Meanwhile, authorities in Kano State say there is progress in the treatment of children with acute malnutrition, saying that since 2015, no death has been recorded in any of the various centres of community management of acute malnutrition across the state.

The Nutrition Officer with the Kano State Ministry of Health, Mrs. Halima Musa Yakasai, told journalists at the Sharada Out Therapeutic Patient Treatment Centre in Kano, that the state had 30 centres in six local governments area councils, out of the 44 local councils in the state.

Mrs. Yakasai however said the programme started in 2010 and that despite progress being recorded, the state needed more of such facilities to ensure that more malnourished children get treated.

She also said for impact of the programme to be felt, more manpower was needed to handle the increasing number of patients, who need the services provided at the centres, which are provided free by the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF in collaboration with governments.

The overall outcome of the UNICEF Media Dialogue is that sensitisation was all that is the first step towards eliminating child malnutrition in the country.

The journalists all agreed to do more in enlightening the public on the dangers of child malnutrition, which can affect the child’s growth and development.

UNICEF is encouraging the public to eat right, especially by feeding children with the right kind of food during the first one thousand days, which is the most critical stage of a child’s growth and development.

They are also encouraging exclusive breast feeding for six months.

Health authorities in Kano State have commended the progress made in the treatment of children with acute malnutrition, saying that since 2015, there have been no recorded cases of death among children treated for malnutrition at various centres of community management of acute malnutrition across the state.

The Nutrition Officer with the Kano State Ministry of Health, Mrs. Halima Musa Yakasai, told journalists at the Sharada Out Therapeutic Patient Treatment Centre in Kano, that the state had 30 centres in six local governments area councils, out of the 44 local councils in the state.

Mrs. Yakasai however said the programme started in 2010 and that despite progress being recorded, the state needs more of such facilities to ensure that more malnourished children get treated.

She also said for impact of the programme to be felt, more manpower was needed to handle the increasing number of patients, who need the services provided at the centres, which are provided free by the United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF in collaboration with governments.

Nnenna.O