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Nigeria: Research Declares Malnutrition At “Crisis Point”

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Up to six out of every 10 children in five northern states-Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Yobe, and Zamfara suffer stunting, which impairs their physical and mental development, says new research suggesting malnutrition has reached ‘crisis point” in Nigeria.

Researchers working under a six-year project, Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN), also found an estimated 370,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in these states will require lifesaving treatment this year.

“Without such treatment, some 70,000 of those children are likely to die,’ the researchers reported on Thursday in Abuja.

“Taking action to address the root causes of child malnutrition is key to reduce the staggeringly high rate of child malnutrition in northern Nigeria,” concluded the project.

It came as experts from federal and state governments, development partners, civil society and academia ended a two-day meeting in Abuja to discuss results of the research.

“Crisis point”

Stakeholders describe the rate of malnutrition in the five states as having reached a “crisis point”.

“We have a combination of nutrition contributing to poor brain development as well as poor development of the immune system, and unfortunately increasing likelihood of death,” said Andrew Tomkins, an emeritus professor at the Institute of Global Health.

“These figures are higher now than when I used to live here in northern Nigeria 30 years ago, and it is a great challenge to all of us to address these questions as have been identified by people of all levels from federal through to state and [local government areas].”

The $48 million project WINNN is implemented by the Nigerian Government with support from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children and Action Against Hunger, and funded by the UK Department for International Development.

The project started in 2011 and only works in three local government areas in Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Yobe, and Zamfara, all considered to have some of the highest rates of malnutrition.

Behind the numbers

Most of the states have been more interested in treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition, using “power food”-a ready-to-use-therapeutic food formulated from groundnut, milk, fats, minerals and vitamins-to help malnourished children recover fast.

But only half the LGAs in all five states have this programme, says Arjan de Wagt, chief of nutrition at UNICEF, which facilitates import of power foods from South Africa.

“Nationally of 1.6 million children this year who need the life-saving treatment, looking at resources available, only about 500,000 [of them] will receive it,” said de Wagt.

The Fund estimates up to 300,000 of children denied treatment for malnutrition will die this year, if nothing is done.

“Behind these numbers are faces of individual children. We have to go beyond the numbers. We have to start treating these children as if they are our children. We need a social movement to address malnutrition,” said de Wagt.

The movement is to mobilise resources to treat children with malnutrition and teach parents how to look after their babies in efforts to prevent it.

Unfunded budget

The WINNN research confirmed only 10% of women across the states gave birth in hospitals, and many mothers did not understand the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and that even giving water to a baby under six months old can lead to illnesses and malnutrition.

It also found funding from states and local governments have been inadequate. Only Kebbi released funding-some N175 million-it budgeted for nutrition in 2014.

In the same year, Zamfara budgeted N36 million but released nothing. Nutrition was entirely unfunded in Katsina and Jigawa.

Last year, Jigawa budgeted N90 million, which wasn’t released after the 2015 government change. Nutrition budget for 2016 dropped to N35 million.

Jigawa health commissioner Abba Umar Zakari blamed the budget drop on reduced federal allocation.

“It doesn’t make any sense to make a pledge of funds that you may not be able to get or spend. We have a budget in Jigawa based on fiscal realism,” said the commissioner.

‘We are currently looking at doing some virements in some of the subheads to increase the nutrition budget, and I assure you it will go beyond the N90 million that was approved previously.”

A separate project, the Operational Research and Impact Evaluation, is assessing WINNN’s impact in the region, and gathering evidence on solutions to under-nutrition.

The project is training nutrition researchers in federal universities in Jos, Maiduguri, Zaria and Kano is expected to conclude on the cost of interventions by year end, according to ORIE director, Dr Vincent Ahonsi.

“Nutrition service is about what we know 30 years ago,” Ahonsi said.

“We are all saying we want to tackle malnutrition but what does it cost to treat a child who is malnourished?”

[Source: All Africa]
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