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Unfulfilled Dreams: Malnutrition Claims More Infants In Nasarawa 

Editing Office - EMEKA IKE

The nutritional crisis in Nasarawa State in the last three months has raised some alarming concerns among key stakeholders in the food and health sectors as 30 children have been confirmed dead and over 2,000 hospitalized as a result of malnutrition that has hit the state in recent time. DANJUMA JOSEPH (Lafia) reports The Nasarawa State Government has disclosed that no fewer than 30 children have been confirmed dead, while more than 2,000 are currently receiving medical attention in various medical centers across the state, as a result of acute malnutrition and diseases that hit the state in the past three months. Nutrition officer in the Nasarawa State Primary Health Care Development Agency, Hajiya Halima Yusuf, disclosed this recently at a two-day meeting of the state Committee on Food and Nutrition in Lafia. 

 According to Hajiya Yusuf, the children had to be admitted in 15 health care centers across the state, following the increasing cases of acute malnutrition and other diseases due to the absence of required nutrients in their diets. She further disclosed that as a result of the increasing cases of malnutrition and other diseases, the state Primary Health Care Development Agency, has embarked on an intensive Community Management of Acute Malnutrition Programme, across the state to reduce the outbreak. Nasarawa State Committee on Food and Nutrition drew focal persons from all the 13 local government areas of the state including the media, civil society groups, ministries and agencies, and NGOs, with the state Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning coordinating. 

The state coordinator, Committee on Food and Nutrition, Abdul Osama, spoke on the need for more campaigns on the importance of eating a balanced diet. While the state chairman, Committee on Food and Nutrition, Emmanuel Alidzi, called for urgent action to check the increasing cases of acute malnutrition in the state. Most of the nutrition focal persons in the local government areas of the state called for budgetary provision for nutrition at the local government level. “With this disclosure so far, one can make haste to say that Nasarawa State is at the risk of yet another disease that has been ravaging the country and indeed the entire African continent,” Alidzi said. “Research shows that malnutrition occurs when a person does not receive adequate nutrients from diet. This causes damage to the vital organs and functions of the body. Lack of food is the major cause of malnutrition in the poorer and developing countries.” A nutritionist and lecturer with one of the institutions of higher learning in the state, who does not want her name in print, said the statistics mean the affected children are either destined for early death or a life of unfulfilled dreams since they are unable to cope in school or any vocation due to malnutrition. 

“There will be grave implications if we ignore malnutrition, this issue must be on top of the agenda if we are serious about the future of Nasarawa State and the country at large,” she said. She appealed to the government not to just allocate enough funds to address nutrition crisis but to also ensure that the funds are released to execute the plan and put an eye on it to ensure that the funds are spent on the purpose they are meant for. Other nutritionists in the state Ministry of Health who spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend called for increased awareness among the public on the consequences of malnutrition and how to prevent it. “This begins with giving better education to children, especially the girl child, and empowering women to be economically viable and self -reliant to providing quality nutrition. Against the backdrop of the nutrition crisis in the state, a non-governmental organisation, Civil Society-Scaling up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS-SUNN), recently organized a one-day meeting with media outfits in Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, towards addressing the menace bedeviling the state and the country at large. 

Addressing participants at the meeting, the CS-SUNN Nasarawa State coordinator, Mrs Mercy Asso, said the term malnutrition can be classified into over-nutrition and under-nutrition, adding that under-nutrition includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), under-weight (low weight for age) and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals). She consequently blamed malnutrition as one of the leading causes of child mortality worldwide, adding that it is characterized by a deficiency of macronutrients or micronutrients or both. “More than 5.9 million children under the age of five die around the world; 45 percent of these deaths are attributed to malnutrition. Malnutrition is the cause of about half of all under-five deaths in Nigeria,” she said. Asso, therefore, noted that the first 1,000 days of life which begins at conception, through pregnancy, to age two is very important to nutritional issues. Consequently, she said, “A healthy mother is more likely to give birth to a healthy baby and have the ability to care for the child during this most crucial period of development. “Adequate nutrition, correct and consistent practice of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF), eating right proportion of a variety of foods such as staple foods, legumes, animal source foods, fruits, vegetables, fats/oils are all essential throughout lifespan but especially within the first 1,000 days.” Welcoming participants at the media engagement, the executive secretary, CS-SUNN, Mrs. Beatrice Eluaka, said the aim of the meeting was to highlight the nutrition situation in Nasarawa State and government efforts in addressing the menace. She said the engagement was also to call on the Nasarawa State government to prioritize nutrition and ensure timely release of funds allocated to nutrition in order to scale up nutrition interventions in the state. According to her, “CS-SUNN commends the state government’s commitment to addressing malnutrition in the state. One of such efforts is evident in the budgetary allocations made to nutrition. The state government also recorded some progress on the implementation of the National Strategic Plan of Nutrition as is evident in CS-SUNN’s performance scorecard in 2016 which scored the Nasarawa State government 56.8 percent in the implementation of the plan.” However, despite the gains made in the state to curb the menace, she said the non-release of funding allocated to nutrition has also worsened the malnutrition situation in the state. “We want to draw attention to the fact that the burden of malnutrition in the state is much bigger than the nutrition allocation in Nasarawa State. 

The attendant non release of funding allocated to nutrition also worsens the situation thus making it impossible to reverse the disturbing statistics on malnutrition in Nasarawa State,” she said. She revealed that “available data from the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS 2013) and the latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2017), indicate a rise in the state’s malnutrition burden.” Eluaka continued that malnutrition, which continues to be a key contributor to infant and maternal mortality and morbidity also leads to poor cognitive development and increased severity of diseases, adversely affecting under five-year children in the state. She further revealed that the 2013 NDHS reported a stunting rate in Nasarawa State of 34.5 per cent, while underweight and wasting rates were put at 20.9 percent and 9.8 percent respectively, even as she continued that the latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2017) shows a higher rate of stunting at 37.2 percent and lower rates of underweight and wasting at 20.7 percent and 6.8 percent respectively. In her remarks at the engagement meeting with various media outfit, the communications officer of CS-SUNN, Lilian Ajah-mong, said the Partnership for Improving Nigeria Nutrition System (PINES), was designed to strengthen Nigeria’s nutrition systems to be more result driven, effective, serviceable and efficient. “The overall goal is to contribute to the reduction of malnutrition among women and under-five children by strengthening the Nigeria nutrition systems.” She said specific goals of PINS are to improve implementation of National Multi-Sectoral Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition (NMSPAN) with focus on high impact nutrition interventions in the health and agriculture sector strategic plans designed to contribute to reduction in maternal and child malnutrition at national and focal states, and momentum for scaling up nutrition in Nigeria, through concerted Civil Society Action. She appealed to the media to increase reportage of nutrition issues in Nasarawa State, setting nutrition as an agenda for discourse on public opinion making tables, increasing their watchdog function via investigative reports around nutrition issues.

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