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Why improving maternal health, first 1000 days of life matters

Why improving maternal health, first 1000 days of life matters

Ensuring that every child stands the chance to survive, develop and thrive is an imperative that requires continuous action. The first 1000 days are a passport to a healthy and brighter future for every child if promoted behaviours are strictly and intentionally adhered to.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the government and partners are joining forces to address all the aspects that hinder mothers and babies from receiving adequate care and nutrition during the critical 1000 days period by educating families and providing support to mothers for exclusive breastfeeding, expanding immunisation coverage and uptake.

The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS 6 report launched in 2022 but conducted in 2021 by the National Bureau of Statistics, (NBS), in collaboration with UNICEF, and other development agencies further shows that both stunting and wasting are low in the South-West region and generally Nigeria, still low to other countries.

In Southwest, the MICS 6 report, shows that all states in the South-West region of Nigeria demonstrate poor outcomes in the prevalence of stunting and wasting.

In Nigeria, 12 million children under 5 are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age due to malnutrition. Of those, about half become stunted during pregnancy and the first six months of life, 500- a day when a child is fully dependent on maternal nutrition, according to a new analysis in a Global Nutrition Crisis reports on Adolescent girls and women.

While wasting refers to a child who is too thin for his or her height and is the result of recent rapid weight loss or failure to gain weight.
According to the data on stunting Oyo state ranks highest with 34.5 percent, and Ogun state has 26.6 percent of its children still stunted. Followed by Osun with 23.7 percent, Etiki state with 22.3 percent, Ondo state has 20.4 percent and Lagos state having the least stunted children at 17.2 percent.

For wasting, Etiki and Ondo States have 3.3 percent respectively and that is the lowest in South-West states. Oyo has 3.9 percent, Osun 4.5 percent and Ogun has 5.7 percent, Lagos state with 6.4 percent with the highest prevalence among children under 5 years of age.

Meanwhile, SDG target 2.2 seeks to end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age and addressing the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.

The First 1000 Days are from the conception of the child to the second birthday. During this period, nutritional needs must be constantly increasing. However, not meeting the child’s nutritional needs could negatively influence their long and short-term health outcomes.

Tackling malnutrition starts with investing in the first 1000 days, according to Bill Gates, this issue affects everything about child development. And it even affects everything about education and economic development. “If I had one magic power to solve the world’s challenges, nutrition would be that power. “Nutrition belongs to the top of the list, ” he said.

Working where it matters

According to the report, a child’s brain at birth develops 25 percent of adult size, by age 2 which is the first 1000 days, the child’s brain has developed by 75 percent of adult size. Also, by age 6; greater than 90 percent of adult size.

To improve what will shape a child’s lifelong chance for health during the first 1000 days, it becomes critical to ensure that the foundation for a child’s future well-being is built.

“Good nutrition during the first 1000 days provides the building blocks for healthy brain development, ” said Ada Ezeogu, UNICEF nutrition specialist.

“Maternal diet and nutrient stores are the only sources of nutrition for a developing baby; women must get healthier and nutritious food before and during pregnancy.”

While it is also necessary to build a child’s health, a far start in life and prosperity, this incredible transformation is dependent on the nutrients ( Folic acid, iron, zinc and iodine as well as protein) that the baby gets from his or her mother.

The absence of one or more of these nutrients during pregnancy places the baby at risk for developmental delay, birth defects and cognitive deficits.

There is evidence suggesting that the health effects of poor nutrition and adverse experiences early in life can pass down from one generation to the next.

There are, however, proven interventions to address these problems and save millions of lives within this window of opportunity.

In doing this, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Lagos in collaboration with UNICEF on Thursday 9, March organised a media advocacy meeting for COVAX and Routine Immunisation uptake in Lagos.

However, highlighting the major roles of media in promoting behaviours in the first 1000 days and a call to action to be involved and contribute immensely to practice to increase the chances of a child’s survival in the state.

Speaking on increasing a child’s chance of survival by focusing on the first 1000 days, Aderonke Akinola-Akinwole, social behavioural change specialist, said the first 1000 days presents the first window of opportunity to invest in a child’s chance of survival, being healthy, learning and thrive.

“The areas of focus are on the health in antenatal care, routine immunisation, nutrition, early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding, improved hygiene practice and, child protection in birth registration and female genital mutilation.”

The great start for a child begins from the day the child is conceived in the womb, delivered and cared for in a clean and protected manner, ” she said.

Strengthening the health system by identifying bottlenecks, prioritising actions and building capacities at primary health care and community levels has shown dramatic reductions in under-five deaths and improvement in coverage and access to care.

The following practice has been shown to improve results along the first 1000 days, improving linkages with early childhood development centres in communities with primary care clinics including building capacities of these practitioners for growth monitoring, improved early identification of problems in children and referrals to care.

Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Nigeria’s country representative, said: “Investing in children is investing in human capital. The right to health, nutrition and care, especially during the first 1000 days of life, can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to live, grow, learn, and rise out of poverty. It can break the cycle of poverty for families, communities, and countries, and shape a society’s long-term stability and prosperity.”

Read also: Make antenatal, family planning free to reduce high maternal deaths – Stakeholders tell FG

Driving awareness

The advocacy meeting tends to address and inspire the media to shape the knowledge of caregivers and advocate for policymakers to promote the practice of the key behaviour in the first 1000 days.

Akinwole, who helps to coordinate training for media in benefiting states. “we are engaging the media because it is the fourth estate of the realm. Media is a segment of society that has an indirect but key role in influencing the political system primarily as a watchdog.

She explained that the media has the power to influence the populace by providing the necessary and factual information about the first 1000 days’ reality, prevalence and impact on child’s nutrition and development in Nigeria.
“We are seeing the impact of this advocacy, but it’s slow. For instance, looking at breastfeeding compared within 10 years, we have moved from 22 to 24 percent but have yet to meet the international target which is 50 percent,” Ada Ezeogu

“We will keep engaging the media, we urge for more to provide continuous and consistent information on emerging issues around 1000 days, educate the public, and leverage on regular channels of interaction with caregivers.”