To ensure optimal growth, development and health of every child in the country, healthcare professionals have recommended ways Nigeria could effectively tackle the menace of child malnutrition which a new survey says has worsened.
The officially released results of the Fifth Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS5), conducted in 2016 and 2017, shows that malnutrition among children under five years has worsened in Nigeria with the highest concerns in northern states.
Though the survey results showed that Nigeria made significant improvements in some areas like drop in infant mortality rate and increase in exclusive breastfeeding rate, other areas like malnutrition has worsened since 2011 by not keeping pace with population growth when the last survey was conducted.
According to the report, underweight prevalence (children who are too thin for their age) increased from 24.2% to 31.5%, stunting prevalence (children who are short for their age) increased from 34.8% to 43.6% while wasting prevalence (children who are too thin for their height) increased marginally from 10.2% to 10.8%.
Despite the worrisome statistics, Nigeria though still the third highest in childhood mortality in the world, after India and Pakistan, recorded drop in infant mortality rate from 97 per 1000 live births recorded in 2011, to 70 per 1000 live births in 2016 to 2017. Similarly, deaths among children under age five have dropped to 120 per 1000 live births from 158 in 2011.
Malnutrition according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.
Reacting to the report, President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Mike Ogirima, who acknowledged that child malnutrition has become a major health challenge in the country,noted that government at all levels have a role to play in eradicating the silent killer.
He said: “The government can do this by strengthening the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHC) where pregnant women can be properly educated on the imortance of nutrition and availability of local food supplements such as soya bean. “The most important way of tackling malnutrition is for the mothers to feed very well so as to pactice healthy and effective baby friendly programmes such as exclusive breastfeeding because breastmilk is a perfect food for children. Breastmilk is a complete meal for our children.”
Ogirima frowned at some cultural practices where children are denied protein-rich foods like chicken, eggs, fish, meat and are exclusively reserved for the adults. He reiterated the need for children to be given eggs and other protein-rich foods always beacuse they are complete and balanced diet.
The survey was conducted in 2016 and 2017 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other key partners so as to provide useful information for economic planning.
The NMA President,however, identified poor nuttritional knowledge of mothers,poverty,child marriage, economic recession as some of the causes of child malnutrition in the country.
According to the WHO,155 million children under the age of five are stunted and most of them live in low and middle-income countries like Nigeria.
Studies have shown that poor nutrition, especially at a child’s early age, is a major cause of stunting, along with childhood infections and illnesses even as other studies have discovered that eggs as part of a child’s diet could be a cheap way of preventing stunting.
On her part, Consultant Paediatrian and Head,Neonatology Unit, Department of Paediatrics, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, Prof. Chinyere Ezeaka, suggested that both mothers and physicians should embark on nutrition education and counselling ,stressing that nutrition remains the hallmark of child survival.
Ezeaka, who is President, Nigeria Society of Neonatal Medicine (NISONM), also identified exclusive breastfeeding as key strategy to reducing child malnutrition.
She explained:” Once nutrition is compromised beginning from conception and lack of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, you see the child developing many problems like malnutrition.
“So, is not just talking about malnutrition which is the curative,we must talk about prevention which is nutrition education. We have to talk about health promotion and the prvention of malnutrition.”
The child health expert further recommended that nutrition education should be introduced in the curriculum of every health worker as well as the hospital and community level.
“Health workers and the mothers themselves must know that nutrition starts with the mother and not the child and that micronutrients and macronutrients are important in the optimal growth of a child”, she added.
To Clifford Lo, a Professor of Paediatrics and Nutrition, Harvard Medical School, Boston,USA, the fight against child malnutrition should start with mothers by ensuring that they consume more of fruits and vegeatables during conception.
He also suggested that mothers should introduce their babies to different healthy foods after six months of exclusive breastfeeding and to also teach them how to eat healthy.
The British Nutrition Foundation also advised that children should have a variety of foods in their diets because it is necessary to get all the vitamins and minerals that they need and to also allow them to become familiar with a wide range of tastes and textures.
Speaking at a two-day media dialogue in Enugu recently, organised by Child Right Information Bureau (CRIB), Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with UNICEF, Maureen Zubie-Okolo,UNICEF Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, said the MICS5 data would enable users to be objective in giving useful information to the public.