Seven years after, Nigeria fails to end malnutrition 19.5 million people are at risk of acute food insecurity

It is sad that Nigeria has been battling with many challenges over the years, which have escalated in recent times, and further impacting on its development.

One of such challenges is malnutrition, which seems to be increasing despite efforts at curbing it.

Nigeria, Africa’s giant, is home to the highest number of malnourished children on the continent, but what has become worrisome is that the country is off-track on the goal to end malnutrition and hunger, the United Nations Children Fund and nutrition experts have disclosed.

Nearly half of all the deaths in children under the age of five are caused by malnutrition. However, UNICEF and nutrition experts say the burden may worsen, explaining that Nigeria did not make any significant progress in the last couple of years, and is even at risk of back-sliding on gains made.

In 2015, Nigeria committed to 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs. Among the 17 goals, the country prioritized SDG 2, which focuses on ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030. According to the 2021 SDGs Report, Nigeria ranks 160 out of the 165 countries from 159th position in 2020.

Chidi Ezinwa, a public health expert from Enugu State University of Science and Technology, disclosed that Nigeria may lose the minimal gains made so far and continue to lag on nutrition targets, due to persisting insecurity across the country, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are making a backward movement, even when there was no crisis. Today, we have this crisis situation, so malnutrition will be on the increase because you can’t separate conflict from malnutrition and hunger. Given the situation we are not likely going to make any progress,” he said at a dialogue organised by UNICEF and the Ministry of Information and Culture recently in Enugu.

UNICEF Nutrition Office in Enugu also stressed that the country has continued to occupy the unenviable position as number one in Africa and number two in the world in terms of malnourished children. Quoting the National Demographics Health Survey (NDHS), the Fund said of the 35 million children under the ages of five, 14 million are stunted, 3 million are wasted and 24 million are anemic.

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Also, the Global Nutrition Report shows that Nigeria has the second largest population of stunted and wasted children in the world; 13.9 million and 3.4 million respectively. It states that the country has high rates of food and nutrition insecurity, particularly in the north-eastern region.

Meanwhile, the Cadre Harmonisé (CH), a unified tool for consensual analysis of acute food and nutrition insecurity in the Sahel and West African Region, revealed that 14.5 million people (9.1 percent) are facing acute food insecurity and require urgent assistance in the current period from March to May, 2022.

CH also analysed that 19.5 million Nigerians are projected to face acute hunger from June to August 2022-a situation that could worsen malnutrition in children if not addressed, according to nutrition experts. Already, more than 70 percent of Nigerian children live in poverty and 23.3 percent live in extreme poverty, according to available data.

While describing situation as worrisome, Nkeiru Enwelum, UNICEF Nutrition Office in Enugu, said Nigeria must take urgent as strategic action to get back on track. She noted that the consequences are significant for both the children and the Nigerian economy.

According to Enwelum, failure to prevent and treat malnutrition can result in long term cognitive and growth impacts; loss of income for households, up to 15 percent GDP loss for Nigeria; and increased morbidity and potential deaths. The Nutrition Officer also reiterated that 45 percent of all deaths in under five years olds is due to malnutrition.

Enwelum further argued that treating malnutrition will cost the country more than preventing it. “It cost $15 (N6,000) to prevent malnutrition through the delivery of high impact nutrition interventions. It cost $120 (N60,000) to treat malnutrition through Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition-eight times the cost of prevention”, she said.

“The first 1,000 days of life is a critical window of opportunity for nutrition from conception up till the child’s second birthday. That period has been established as the critical window of opportunity to implement impact interventions in a child’s life in order to prevent malnutrition and mortality and ensure that children grow well and reverse the trend of malnutrition. If malnutrition is beyond the critical window of opportunity, it’s irreversible,” she added.

“The Convention on the right of a child stipulates that children have the right to food and the SDGs recognize the importance of nutrition as critical to economic development and wellbeing of countries. It also situated SDGs as one that focuses on nutrition contributing to zero hunger, there is an indication that tracks child nutrition specifically child wasting and child stunting,” Enwelum further said.

Meanwhile Nigeria has a national policy on food and nutrition. There were 15 other policies in existence before the national policy was produced in 2016. It aims to reduce the proportion of people who suffer hunger and malnutrition by 50 percent by 2025, reduce childhood wasting and severe acute malnutrition by 10 percent, and rescue stunting rate among under 5 to 18 years.

Overall, by 2030, Nigeria hopes to end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons; end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.

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