Acute malnutrition as threat to child survival, development in North-East


By George Aderogba, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Unarguably, with the recent data released by Borno Government, malnutrition is a great challenge in the state. A harmonised data from various locations, both government and partners, indicated that no fewer than 3, 522 children died of malnutrition in Borno between January 2017 and July 2021.

Of these deaths, 239 were recorded between January and July, 2021.

Mr Abdullahi Madi, Deputy Director, Borno State Nutrition Officer, who gave the figures in Maiduguri at a three-day Media Dialogue on Child Malnutrition Reporting, called for concerted efforts to tackle the challenge.

Samuel Sesay, UNICEF’s, Chief Field Officer, Maiduguri Office, who spoke on the issue, said that acute malnutrition is now on the increase.

He blamed the increase on displacement of people, the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity, food insecurity, among others, stressing that malnutrition is the biggest threat to child survival and development in the North-East.

Sesay noted that conflict in the North-East led to multiple displacements and destruction of sources of livelihood for households. According to him, malnutrition is the underlying cause of about 50 per cent of all deaths among children under five years globally.

He noted that the destruction of basic infrastructure and services, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the growing number of children affected by under-nutrition.

This according to him, has far-reaching impact on child education, health, adult earning power, individual and family finance, as well as the country’s economy.

Sesay stated that the region was under serious threat, stressing that households in the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe are currently undergoing harsh and unprecedented food crisis and hunger.

“There is no sugar coating it, malnutrition is the underlining cause of nearly half of all deaths in under-five children globally.

“And it is currently the biggest threat to child survival and developments in North-East Nigeria; households in the region are experiencing unprecedented levels of food crisis and hunger.’’

He noted that households food insecurity, poor infant feeding and care practices, as well as poor feeding environment, have been identified as causes of malnutrition.

Sesay said that in the North-East some of the contributing factors to the growing number of children affected by under-nutrition include: conflict, multiple displacements, destruction of sources of livelihood for households.

Others are: destruction of basic infrastructure and services, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The importance of good nutrition on children’s development is enormous, with far-reaching impact on child education, health, adult earning power, individual and family finance as well as the country’s economy.

“Therefore, it is unacceptable that children continue to bear the greatest burden of conflict, climate change and COVID-19,” he said.

He added that ensuring good nutrition in children helps families and it is a cheaper route to nation-building.

Mr Ifeanyi Maduanisi, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, called for multi-sectoral approach to combat child malnutrition in the North-East.

He disclosed that there are indications that the child malnutrition situation in the North- East is not improving.

“I am advocating for multi-sectoral kind of planning to combat child malnutrition in such a way that food security, livelihood, health, water sanitation and hygiene are done together to give a synergistic impact,” he said.

According to Maduanisi , apart from the general insecurity in the North-East, socio cultural believe is another driver that fuels malnutrition in children in the North-East.

“Part of the drivers of malnutrition we have in the North-East, aside the conflict and the attendant consequences like displacement, loss of livelihood, destruction of infrastructure and basic services, is the issue of socio-cultural believe and behaviours.

“These things take time to address. You don’t change these behaviours overnight. But it becomes aggravated when there is no environment for people to adopt good behaviour,” he said.

While explaining the level of improvement of malnutrition in the North-East, he said: “The data we are seeing from different surveillance and analysis indicate that the malnutrition situation is not actually improving.’’

He said that some gains have been recorded, stressing that in 2016 to around 2018, there were some gains, but those gains were not sustained, adding however that the gain was reversed from 2019 to date.

Prof. Ashiru Garba, a professor of Public Health also echoed that “malnutrition is largely concentrated in Nigeria’s northern states.

He noted that the proportion of stunted children is highest in the North-East and North-West, and put the percentage at 57. By state, stunting is most prevalent in Yobe at 10.9 per cent, Borno at 11.5 per cent and Adamawa at 7.1 per cent, Garba said, adding that these states are all in the North-East. According to him, malnutrition, in all its forms, imposes unacceptable high costs, be it direct or indirect on the nation.

“It stretches the already thin economy and has economic consequences at the individual, household and community levels. “At the individual level, malnutrition leads to impaired physical development. It has long term effects on cognitive development, educational performance and economic productivity in adulthood and on maternal reproductive outcomes.

“Malnutrition also weakens the immune system. It results in high risk of serve infectious diseases, including diarrhoea and pneumonia.’’

Garba said that at the household level, the economic consequences include huge expenditure for accessing health care services to treat chronic diseases, among others.

He noted that impaired cognitive development delays school-attendance and reduces attainment, diminishes chances of employment and socialisation opportunities throughout life.(NANFeatures)

** If used, please credit the writer as well as the News Agency of Nigeria