The poor status of nutritional health of children in northern Nigeria regularly gets public attention. According to media reports monitored by HealthNewsNG.com, more than 32,000 children between the ages of six months and 59 months are likely to die in Jigawa State as a result of acute malnutrition.
A nutrition specialist with the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Philomena Irene revealed that some 165,000 severely malnourished children in the state were likely to die this year if left without treatment.
“600,000 children of the 1, 100,000 children under five years old in Jigawa are stunted. At least 165,000 children 6-59 months are severely malnourished and nine times likely to die. If left without treatment, an estimated 32,000 of these are likely to die this year,” she said.
In Kano, it was revealed this week that no fewer than 3.6 million malnourished children have been treated in Kano State under the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme of UNICEF started in the state in 2010.
Hajiya Halima Musa, the Nutrition Officer, Kano State Ministry of Health, made the disclosure during a field trip to Sharada Primary Health Center, Kano, organized for journalists by UNICEF.
She said that 30 centers for the treatment of malnutrition have been opened in six selected local governments of the state. According to her, 103,376 malnourished children were treated at the centers in 2015 out which 5,744 patients were admitted, with nine deaths recorded.
Musa added that 1,617 patients had recovered, while some 272 of those discharged defaulted in their treatment schedules. According to her, each center attends to an average of between 80 and 100 patients daily.
Impacts of this development
According to HealthNewsNG’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Victoria Adepoju, affected children experience developmental delays, weight-loss and illness as a result of inadequate intake of protein, calories and other nutrients.
“Because so much development occurs in the first few years of life, nutrient deficiencies can have major short-term implications in young children,” she said.
These implications include compromising a child’s immune system.
“This makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases. Particularly in institutions where there are poor sanitary practices, children are vulnerable to infections from other children or caregivers. In particular, zinc, iron and vitamin A are commonly associated with weakened immune function,” she said.
She added that malnutrition could also have significant impacts on growth especially total bone growth; other implications include cognitive deficiencies such as attention deficit disorder; impaired school performance; decreased IQ scores; memory deficiency; learning disabilities; reduced social skills; reduced language development; and reduced problem-solving abilities.
In the short-term, efforts by the UNICEF and other relevant bodies have played critical roles in lowering the impacts of malnutrition. Musa confirmed that UNICEF is helping children in the area with Ready to Use Therapy Food (RTUF). She however noted that current efforts are not enough to take care of all the affected children in the region and elsewhere.
She called for the expansion of the treatment centres to at least 22 local government areas In Kano state alone for effective management of the condition; she also urged the relevant stakeholders to provide enough manpower for effective service delivery.
Can school feeding program help?
The federal government of Nigeria recently signed a NGN25 billion contract to feed school children in Nigeria. This extensively lauded and debated move could be an avenue for the government to have a form of input into the nutrition status of children in the country including northern Nigeria.
As part of preparations for the takeoff of proposed free feeding for school children, the Federal Government signed a N25 billion contract with Tuns Farms to facilitate egg production in the country.
The project called National Egg Production Scheme (NEGPRO), is aimed at increasing the output of egg production to 50 million table eggs daily by 2018 and create 1 million jobs.
Chairman of Tuns Farms, Olatunde Badmus said the project would be funded by the Central Bank of Nigeria, through the Bank of Industry with assistance of the agriculture ministry.
Badmus said, “The ministry appointed Tuns as consultant and manager of the scheme, to create 1 million employment through the scheme and produce 50 million table eggs daily by 2018.
“The Ministry of Agriculture will assist the BOI to access N25 billion from the CBN under the agricultural scheme. The BOI will select some commercial banks that will participate in it and loans under this programme would be at single digit rate,” he added.
If all goes well with the plan, each school child in Nigeria will get at least three eggs in a week or an egg per day in order to combat malnutrition. Government added that the huge school feeding programme would ensure that these children have a greater sources of protein in their diet.
While this is a lauded development, the comparatively lower level of education and school enrollment in northern Nigeria could be a deterrent to its ability to reach all the children in the region.
But local and state governments, religious leaders and eminent personalities from the region have huge number of followers and politicians in the past and now are aware of ways to court these leaders in order to have their votes. This is why it would be necessary for the government to push its school feeding initiative through the trusted leaders of the north.
“Truth be told, the north has more than enough sources of good nutrition, the followers just need their leaders to tell them what to do,” said health expert, Segun Adedapo.