Children are the joy of every home and the future of every country. That is why their arrival is celebrated by all and sundry, while their progress generates enormous interest in all societies. Therefore, like other countries of the world, Nigeria cannot afford to be indifferent to the welfare of her children. Even at this, Nigeria has continued to lag behind the internationally accepted standards for child development, especially in the area of child nutrition. Due to this, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nigeria has been at the forefront of sensitising mothers and other stakeholders on the need for breastfeeding children from the start of pregnancy until their second birthday.
This 1,000-day period represents a critical window of opportunity to avert malnutrition and ensure that they have adequate nutrition at this time to grow, learn and rise out of poverty. For long, there has been rising malnutrition among Nigerian children. According to recent Federal Ministry of Health report, more than 41 per cent of Nigerian children under age of five suffer stunted growth resulting from malnutrition.
Corroborating this report, UNICEF put the estimate of severely malnourished in the country at 1.1million. In fact, the findings estimate that nearly four in 10 Nigerian children of less than five years of age are stunted- the second highest rate in the world, and the highest in Africa. This embarrassing development is cause for concern and a clarion call for action.
What is malnutrition? The condition occurs when people consistently do not consume or absorb the right amounts and types of food and essential ingredients.
Dubbed “Nigeria’s Silent Crisis”, malnutrition is responsible for the deaths of more than 500,000 children in the country before their 5th birthday, even as it is a major contributory factor for stunted growth among them. The same survey shows that almost 30 percent of Nigerian children are underweight, while those who are wasted or too thin for their height has risen from 11 percent in 2003 to 18 percent in 2013.
Moreover, up to 1 million Nigerian children under age five suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), while 4 out of 5 of do not meet the World Health Organisation’s recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, even as 70 percent of children between 6 to 23 months are not receiving the minimum acceptable diet. With this alarming development, we call on the Federal Government and other health related agencies to devote more attention and resources towards eradicating child malnutrition in Nigeria.
With all hands on deck, we believe that malnutrition, which manifests in some children as kwashiorkor and affects the cognitive ability to learn in school, can be history, even in Nigeria with a high children population.
All that is needed to tackle the conundrum is the redoubling of campaign for families to space their children adequately, and to a proportionate size. However, the problem of malnutrition goes far beyond how it affects children. A large population of Nigerian adults is suffering health-related problems due to imbalance in their diet. Many ignorantly go on feeding on meals with high percentage of carbohydrates, which health professionals deem inadequate for balanced diet. On the other hand, child-feeding practices should be improved through breastfeeding. This is because breast milk contains enzymes, antibodies, long-chain fatty acids and hormones.