• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Malnutrition, protein deficiency surge in Nigeria amid COVID-19 pandemic


Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria has seen a surge in the number of malnourished persons in the country, experts say.

The experts who spoke at Protein Challenge Webinar Series 4, with the theme ‘COVID-19 and Nigeria’s Protein Deficiency Situation’ say children, female adults of reproductive age, pregnant and lactating women, elderly and convalescent are especially vulnerable in a pandemic, with a big effect on malnutrition.

They say that the obstruction in the supply chains for agricultural activities amid the initial lockdown has brought about a surge in food prices, thus making it more difficult for poor Nigerians to eat nutritional food.

They noted that malnutrition is multi-factorial and anything that affects any of these factors; agriculture, transport and logistics, health, spending, GDP, household finances will eventually affect peoples’ level of nutrition.

According to them, Nigeria has the second-highest number of children affected by malnutrition globally, with more than 2.5 million suffering from severe acute malnutrition with two out of 10 affected children have access to treatment.

The country also has the second-highest burden of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five.

Adepeju Adeniran, said malnutrition will have short-term or acute effects and “long-term” or chronic effects noting that the hidden truth is that protein sources will show their effects slightly later, but just as impactful.

According to the public health physician explained that for the Short-term effects energy giving foods will be out of reach of the whole household and effects will be first seen in the household vulnerable.

She further stated that in the long-term the growth and development of foods will be out of reach of the whole household and this effect will be first seen in the household vulnerable but will affect other members, increase in infections and if prolonged will show effects in stunting and body development.

“In the COVID-19 pandemic, food supply chain was severely threatened as farmers, transporters and food sellers were restricted in movements.

“Availability of food groups dropped, prices of food went up, household earning went down, scarcity of food by displacement occurred from the rural (producers) to the urban (consumers). No ability of the urban areas to produce their own food, leading to a displacement scarcity, harvests were lost as food was rotted at production sites and food supply is not perfectly elastic,” Adeniran added.

Adeniran also spoke on the specific links of COVID-19 to protein deficiency, according to her, both animal and plant sources of protein are important dietary components of food.

“Humans consume mostly the adult form of animal proteins so it must take time to produce. Plant proteins are also an excellent source of the nutrient, which manages to by-pass the long time factor of production that animal proteins take.

While month-long disruptions have created effects that are not easy to reverse, Adeniran however advocated for a well-developed processing and storage systems to be designed to augment the effects of COVID-19 on nutrition.

In the same vein, Beatrice Chinyem Oganah-Ikujenyo, a nutritionist, from the department of Home Economics, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, said animal proteins (beef, mutton, pork, poultry, game and seafood are more expensive because of the cost of breeding, producing and processing when compared with plant protein.

“There are however some plant protein foods that are comparable to animal protein, example soybean, groundnut, and locust bean and sesame seeds contain significant amounts of protein are also very good sources of oils hence rich in fat soluble vitamins. Plant proteins are cheaper in cost.” She said.

Oganah-Ikujenyo said that Infants and children under five years, adolescents (11 – 19years), pregnant and lactating mothers are vulnerable in normal times and much more at risk in a pandemic due to the socio-economic and psychological consequences of pandemics.

“There may be a need for food complementation and supplementation to meet daily protein, vitamins and mineral requirements respectively. This also helps to improve health and vitality of the body.”

“Change in lifestyle also can help by people going back to the days where every family had a cultivated land for food crops like okra, leafy vegetables, plantain, this will reduce the pressure on the available food for sale in the markets,” she advised.