Nigeria is blessed with varieties of foods, but perhaps the case of the Nigerian child and malnutrition is like someone staying in the middle of the sea, yet dying of thirst.
This is underscored by a recent report by the Federal Ministry of Health which stated that “Every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of child bearing age. This makes the country the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world.”
The report revealed that of the under-five deaths, the greater percentage was as a result of pathological condition brought about by inadequacy of one or more of the nutrients essential for survival, growth, development, reproduction and capacity to learn and function in the society. In other words, out of these under-five deaths, many are as a result of malnutrition.
Malnutrition, especially among the under-fives, is said to be a silent killer because many are ignorant of the fact that malnutrition isn’t necessarily as a result of hunger but because malnutrition and diseases are closely linked. Similarly, it was also discovered that most times, diseases are as a result of malnutrition or that it was a contributing cause.
Many people think that malnutrition means hunger, but in actual sense, a child may eat food till he is full but still be malnourished because of lack of dietary diversity in his food intake, or infectious diseases. A malnourished child usually has difficulty doing normal things such as growing and resisting diseases.
According to a nutritionist in Kano, Abubakar Mohammed Umar, when a person is not getting enough food or not getting the right sort of food, then definitely that malnutrition is around the corner.
He added that good dietary diversity in food intake with right proportion in place will ensure healthy growth especially among children under five years.
“It is very vital for children between birth and five years of age to be cared for and all their medical requirements which include good dietary system should also be taken care of so that their potentials can be developed to full capacity,” he said.
Recent reports revealed that nearly four out of five Nigerian children do not meet the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life.
It is obvious that a lot has to be done on advocacy and enlightenment for nursing mothers especially at the grassroots. Malnutrition is not the same thing as hunger, although they often go together.
“Malnourished children lack the nutrients needed for proper health and development. Someone can be malnourished for a long or short period of time, and the condition may be mild or severe. Children who are malnourished are more likely to get sick and, in severe cases, might even die,” said Umar.
He further stated that, chronic hunger and malnutrition can cause significant health problems, and people who go hungry all the time are likely to be underweight; weighing significantly less than an average person of their size.
The nutritionist added that if malnourished as a child, their growth may also be stunted, making them much shorter than average.
In Kano State, about 3.6 million malnourished children have been treated under the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which began in the state in 2010.
A nutrition officer, Kano State Ministry of Health, Hajiya Halima Musa, disclosed this during a field trip to Sharada Primary Health Centre in Kano, organized for journalists by UNICEF.
The officer said there are 30 designated centres for the treatment of malnutrition, adding that these centres have been opened in six selected local government areas of the state.
She revealed that about 103,376 malnourished children were treated at the centres in 2015 and that out of the 5,744 patients admitted there, nine died during the period.
She also revealed that 1,617 patients had recovered, while 272 of those discharged defaulted in their treatment schedules.
She explained that Ready to Use Therapy Food (RTUF) was given to malnourished children free of charge.
Furaira Ayuba, a mother of four revealed that she never thought the sickness of her two-year-old son had anything to do with food, adding that as far as she was concerned there was more than enough for young Ali to feed on.
“Initially, we thought it was measles because my son had exhibited stunted growth, he was under weight and he was just wasting. That was why we resorted to orthodox medication but to no avail, thinking it was a strange ailment. When I was told that my son was malnourished, I felt insulted really and his father felt the same way too, but we were later educated and here we are today receiving treatment. Ali is better now,” narrated Furaira.
The mother of a two-year-old malnourished child, Yusuf Yusuf, said before enrolling her child in the CMAM programme, helooked like a 13-month-old baby because he had been wasting away and his growth stunted.
She added that for the months she had been attending the programme, her son was regaining his weight.
She said: “I didn’t think Yusuf would survive. You need to see him when we brought him here. To be truthful, I was shocked when I was told that our son was just malnourished and not suffering the ailment we thought was responsible for his condition. I lost two children to similar sickness due to ignorance because we thought it was a hereditary condition.”
Another nutritionist, Haladu Mika’il, advised that the first two years of life are the critical window opportunity because during that period, it is possible to prevent the largely irreversible damage that follows early childhood under-nutrition.
“From six to 24 months of age, parents should try to ensure that under-two babies receive the vitamins and minerals they need for their growth and also sustaining the quality and quantity of food a child eats,” Mika’il advised.
By: Ibrahim Musa Giginyu, Kano
Daily Trust News