Abuja – The sight of Abdullahi Muhammed (not real name) a four-year old boy, with a rather big head, lean limbs and ribs sticking out, a grossly emaciated body will ordinarily pinch and pierce the mind of any warm blooded person.
The four-year old boy, who looks like a six-month old cannot sit on its own. He has never crawled not to talk of standing or walking since birth. He often cries profusely for help each time his strength fails him due to acute malnutrition.
With tiny arms and legs, little Abdullahi looks like a small infant rather than a boy who is approaching five.
Narrating her ordeal in Hausa, the 30 years old mother of six, said, “I lived peacefully with my husband in Baga village in Borno State and a day came in our lives that almost all the villagers were captured and taken away by Boko Haram into captivity in 2015. Unfortunately, my husband was killed in my presence.
“When Boko Haram took us captive in 2015, I was pregnant of my son, Abdullahi, because we could barely eat one meal a day and because of the trauma I went through after the death of my husband, things fell apart for me and my five kids.
“One day, we were lucky to have fled into Niger Republic and were taking to their IDP. There they fed us once a day, with either local rice or spaghetti. We did not have enough food to eat and I was pregnant.
“Just last week, we were able to come back to Nigeria and someone told me about the Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) site. According to her, the sickness (malnutrition) is alien to me, because, he is my last child of six children, and none of my children suffer this before.
“I have been treating him for five days now and there is a kind of improvement. I am excited that my child is now improving, because he was in a very terrible shape before now. Now that they are given him ‘Ready To Use Therapeutic Food’ (RUTF), he is improving. He is eating better and even crawls now.
“He is only trying to crawl and he does it for some time and will stop because he does not have strength in him, but I thank God that he has started crawling, he is improving.
“At a time, I was so confused; I didn’t know what was wrong with the child. He was not growing like a normal child and when we came back to Nigeria that was when I was told that the baby was malnourished. I returned to Nigeria 10 days ago,” she stressed.
Also, Mrs. Wasilat Muhammed, mother of eight children in her 20s, whose son, Saidu Jimoh (not real name ) is her eighth child said none of her children ever came down with malnutrition and was surprised to see this happening to her last child.
Narrating her story, she said, “We were taking into captivity by Boko Haram insurgents when Saidu was barely four months old. We went through hell, (sobbing) in the hands of our captors. We could hardly eat one square meal a day, we eat what we see to survive
“At times, I pray for death because I couldn’t face my kids going through this while I am still alive, but succor came when, we fled from the Boko Haram captivity to Niger and now we are back in Nigeria. They introduced me to the Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) and they started giving my son the food (RUTF) and we also have food and drugs to survive,” she said.
However, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Mrs Abigael Nyukuri, noted that there is an estimated 2.5 million under five years suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition in Nigeria.
According to her, “the breakdown of the status of Child Nutrition in Borno is as follows: 440,000 children under the age of five are estimated to suffer from SAM this year in the three states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, adding that Yobe State tops with 13 per cent, followed by Borno with 11 per cent, and Adamawa with six per cent,” she said.
“There is still an emergency situation in the north east. Malnutrition affects child’s development and causes 50 per cent of deaths of children under five. It causes irreversible brain damage and compromised intellectual capacity.”
She further revealed that constraints and insecurity had made the situation even worse in some areas. “Poor nutrition situation is further exacerbated by the poor food security situation, sub-optimal Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) practices and high disease burden. There is really poor food security in the three states,” she said.
The agency further alerted that Nigeria is in dire need of N4.4 billion to procure 229,636 cartons of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to address malnutrition in Borno State in 2020. UNICEF said an estimated 440,000 children who are under five years are affected by the Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States in 2019.
Recent reports show that child malnutrition cases in Borno had continued to rise despite international interventions.
Also, Dr. Francis Aminu, Country Director, Micronutrients, Initiative Abuja said, “Malnutrition remains one of the most common causes of morbidity and mortality among children throughout the world. Globally, approximately 9% of children below five years of age suffer from wasting and are at risk of death or severe impairment of growth and psychological development due to malnutrition (WHO 2009 report).
“Malnutrition is both a medical and a social disorder, meaning that the medical problems of the malnourished child result, in part, from the social problems of the home in which the child lives. Malnutrition is the end result of chronic nutritional and frequently, emotional deprivation by care givers, who, because of poor understanding of nutrition, poverty or family problems, are unable to provide the child with the nutrition care he or she requires. Where malnutrition occurrence is viewed as being only a medical disorder, the socio-economical aspect of the care of the child is often neglected; as such, the child in most cases will have a relapse.
“Malnutrition essentially means ‘bad nourishment.’ It can be a case of not enough food, too much food, or the wrong types of food. Clinically, malnutrition is characterised by inadequate or excess intake of protein, energy, and micronutrients such as vitamins, and the frequent infections and disorders that result.
“People are malnourished if they are unable to utilise fully the food they eat, for example due to diarrhoea or other illnesses (secondary malnutrition), if they consume too many calories (overnutrition), or if their diet does not provide adequate calories and protein for growth and maintenance (undernutrition or protein-energy malnutrition). Symptoms of a prolonged excess or insufficiency of energy are often visible (an underweight, pale individual, with protruding bones or an overweight individual Adequate nutrition is essential for healthy Pregnancy,” he added.
However, the Head, Nutrition Division and Director, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Chris Isokpunwu said the problem of malnutrition in Nigeria is a tripartite burden of diseases they are stunting, hidden hunger and wasting the main indicator of childhood malnutrition is stunting.
According to him, stunting is a situation where children are too short for their age. Stunted children have poor physical growth and brain development, preventing them from thriving and living up to their full potential.
Isokpunwu, however, regretted that almost 30 per cent of Nigerian children are underweight, meaning they don’t weigh enough for their age. This is more than double the proportion of neighbouring Ghanaian children who are underweight.
He opined that if Nigerians can abide by the 1,000-day window of opportunity during pregnancy and a child’s first two years when nutrition investments are critical for giving a child the “best shot” in reaching his or her potential, the menace will be reduced.
According to him, “the cost of malnutrition during this 1,000 day window is almost always irreversible. It can result in brain damage, growth and development problems, poorer educational performance, and an increased risk of developing chronic and potentially debilitating disease”.
Isokpunwu stated that nearly four out of five Nigerian children do not meet the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life and about 70 percent of children ages six to 23 months are not receiving the minimum acceptable diet.
“Milk is uncontaminated and contains all the nutrients needed by children in the first six months of life,” he noted.
“Early initiation of breastfeeding ensures infant receives the colostrums (first milk) which is rich in protective factors. WHO recommends that mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
“Well-nourished women face fewer risks during pregnancy and childbirth, and their children set off on firmer developmental paths, both physically and mentally.
“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 are more than three million children each year.
“The symptoms of a nutritional deficiency depend on which nutrient the body lacks. However deficiencies can cause general symptoms. These include: Pallor (pale skin), fatigue, weakness, trouble breathing, unusual food cravings, hair loss, constipation, sleepiness, heart palpitations, feeling faint, depression , menstrual issues (such as missed periods or very heavy cycles) and poor concentration. menstrual issues (such as missed periods or very heavy cycles),” he buttressed.
It would be recalled that issue of insecurity in Nigeria has been on the front burner for years now especially with the Boko Haram insurgency which has claimed thousands of innocent lives and displaced too many families.
Some of the displaced persons lived the whole of their lives in perpetual fear and trauma surviving each day by the grace of God. It is observed that some pregnant and nursing mothers could not feed well, their children had little or nothing to survive on.
If care is not taking, more children will die because of the intergenerational cycle of growth failure shows that malnutrition is cyclical and can be transferred from generation to generation.
However, gazing from one child to the order in empathy, it is hoped that they can give just one more child a fighting chance to beat the food crisis in the Northeast.