Hunger: Group tasks government to invest more on child nutrition

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A non-governmental organisation working on child nutrition in Nigeria has raised alarm on the increasing malnutrition among children under the age of five in the country.

The Executive Secretary, Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria (CS_SUNN), Beatrice Eluaka, in a media roundtable in Abuja urged the government to get more committed in reversing the trend.

Mrs Eluaka said despite efforts to curb the menace, malnutrition has remained a key contributor to infant and maternal mortality, poor cognitive development, and increased severity of diseases which adversely affects productivity in Nigeria.

She said malnutrition among children under five years is worsening in Nigeria and to reverse the trend, governments across all levels need to show more commitment in health and nutrition.

Buttressing the downward trend in success against malnutrition, Mrs Eluaka quoted a 2016-2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS report on the country by UNICEF which indicates that Nigeria is witnessing ‘stagnant or worsening situations’.

According to the report, underweight prevalence (children who are too thin for their age) increased from 19.4 per cent to 31.5 per cent, stunting prevalence (children who are short for their age) increased from 32.9 per cent to 43.6 per cent while wasting prevalence (children who are too thin for their height) increased marginally from 7.2 per cent to 10.8 per cent.

Mrs Eluaka said these negative results indicate an alarming rising trend in Nigeria’s malnutrition burden. He said this will continue to impede the nation’s economic development if not checked.

Mrs Eluaka identified ineffective coordination of nutrition activities and actors at the national and sub-national level as a reason for the trend.

“Inadequate fund allocations and releases for planned implementation work plan geared towards nutrition intervention, low preventive measures for combatting malnutrition, lack of transparency of government to fund allocation, disbursement and judicious utilization.”

Also speaking at the event, the project manager, CS-SUNN, Sunday Okoronkwo, said lack of transparency on government projects and funding has made it difficult for civil organisations to track the way government funds nutrition.

He said information on government’s disbursement to tackle nutrition problems is often not available.

”We want nutrition intervention projects to be effective and result driven and not just to be done. The government needs to take the nutirition issue more seriously.”

Mr Okoronkwo also said funding has been a major issue for health and nutrition.

“Federal and even state governments over the years have not prioritised funding for health and nutrition. Both the federal government and state budget allocations to nutrition have been very minimal, not fully released and very inadequate to solve the problem at hand.

“Most of the money budgeted for nutrition is usually used to buy Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF). This ought not be so. What happens to preventive nutritional projects that can help curtail malnutrition? That is why we are advocating that government at all levels and relevant stakeholders to scale up and smoothen operations in provision of nutrition related and health interventions across the country,” he said.

Malnutrition is a condition that occurs when people consistently do not consume or absorb the right amounts and types of food and essential nutrients.

Globally, it contributes to nearly half of all child deaths — that is more than three million children each year.

Nigeria ranks one of the countries with the highest prevalence rate of stunting, wasting and underweight under five children globally and leading country in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Though efforts are being made by the federal government, some state governments and developmental partners to reverse the trend, Mrs Eluaka laments that despite these funds, many children under the age of five still suffer.