The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that over 400,000 of the children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in Nigeria will likely die before this year is over, unless immediate treatment is provided.
Declaring this during a two-day media dialogue on Child Malnutrition by UNICEF in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, held in Owerri, Imo State, UNICEF Nutrition Advocacy Specialist, Zakaria Fusheini, revealed that about 2.5 million children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in Nigeria are in dare need of treatment and 18-20 per cent of them (over 400,000) will likely die this year without urgent intervention.
He said the burden of SAM is more severe in the north than in the south with between 60-80% of SAM cases found in Northern Nigeria.
In order to avert more death from SAM, he said Nigerian government need to invest more in SAM intervention services such as the Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM).
“The major cost of the programme is the Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for the treatment. It cost UNICEF an estimated US$61 per child reached to procure and distribute the RUTF. This has been made possible, thanks to CIFF, DFID, USAID.
More children are in dire need of treatment. To treat more children, and to sustain the live-saving programme, federal and state governments need to contribute more in the procurement of the RUTF. In 2015, at least about 50 million USD was used to implement nutrition program, 40 per cent of these came from donor agents while only 10 per cent came from Nigerian government”, he said.
According to him, the 10 per cent contribution by federal government is just not enough to save the lives of about 2.5 million severely malnourished children. “If federal government could invest 40 million USD per year, while those by donor agents remain constant, it could make a difference”, he explained.
Lending their voice, other UNICEF communication specialists such as Doune Porter, Eric Bishen, Geoffery Njoku and Blessing Ejiofor informed that malnutrition remains a problem of public health importance in Nigeria hence the need for Nigerian government, at the state and federal level, to investment both in its management and prevention.
Doune Porter, also Chief of Communications, UNICEF Nigeria, noted that the enormous number of severely malnourished children in Nigeria cannot be reached by UNICEF alone.
“The major challenge of the CMAM is finance so that more RUTF can be procured and made available in all states. Investing in nutrition places high economic return”, she said.
According to their report, Nigeria has the highest number of severely malnourished children in Africa with over 13 million children suffering from chronic malnutrition, also called stunting. This makes Nigeria the country with the highest number of stunted children in Africa, and second highest in the world.
On intervention, Fusheini, explained that Nigeria can reverse this alarming malnutrition rate by ensuring that nutrition is fully integrated into the Primary Health Care (PHC) per Ward initiative.
“Nigerian government need to take steps to ensure that Vitamin A, Iron-Folate, Micronutrients Power and Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) are part of the essential supplies of the PHC centers. PHC is not complete without nutrition”, he stressed.
As an immediate action, he said the federal and state governments need to release the allocated 2016 nutrition budgets and provide adequate budget/funds for nutrition in 2017 during the state and federal level 2017 budget cycle.
“There is also need to expand coverage of proven nutrition interventions at the state, LGA and community levels such as Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition; Infant and Young Child Feeding Practices and Micronutrients Deficiency Control”, he added.
According to him, there is a need to adopt the National Nutrition Policy and the Health Sector National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition (2014-2019) at the state level. He also called for the development of costed plans for the implementation of the National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition.
There is need to adopt multi-sectoral approach to tackling the nutrition problem – involve other sectors like water and sanitation; education, agriculture, women and social protection.