To boost child survival in Nigeria particularly children under the age of five, physicians in the country, have been urged to pay adequate attention to the nutritional needs of infants rather than focus only on their medical needs whenever they are brought to the hospital for medical attention.
This is critical to reducing the high burden of child malnutrition in the country which had long been traced to the alarming rate of infant deaths in Nigeria, child health experts say.
According to paediatricians, physicians can achieve this, by improving their knowledge in nutrition and ensure that they acquire both nutrition education and nutrition counselling in order to carry out proper nutritional assessment of every child during any medical examination
The experts made the submission in Lagos recently at the convocation ceremony of some selected healthcare professionals in the country, who underwent the Post Graduate Programme in Nutrition(PGPN), brought by Boston University School of Medicine in collaboration with Medinscribe and supported by Nestlé Nutrition Institute Africa (NNIA).
The aim of the capacity building which recorded over 300 healthcare professionals, according to the management of NNIA, was to holistically tackle infant mortality in the country occasioned by malnutrition, through improved nutritional knowledge of both parents and caregivers.
In his presentation titled, “Establishing Healthy Food Habits in Children”, Representative of Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Clifford Lo, said children required good nutrition to prevent malnutrition and to also reduce their risk to cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes later in life.
He said Nigerian healthcare professionals must take the issue of nutrition seriously as the country was currently faced with the triple burden of malnutrition, under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrient deficiency.
According to UNICEF, malnutrition is the underlying cause of morbidity and mortality of a large proportion of children under-5 in Nigeria. It accounts for more than 50 per cent of deaths of children in this age bracket.
Lo who is an Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the Harvard Medical School, U.S, advised paediatricians in the country to always carry out nutritional assessment of every child that they see in order to find out if the child had paediatric problem.
“Paediatricians should educate the mothers on the importance of giving their children healthy diets that are rich in fruits and vegetables as well as the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
Heart disease, diabetes and obesity all lead to low life expectancy, but can be prevented by nutrition”, he explained.
Lo who is also an Adjunct Professor of Nutrition, Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, identified regular exercise, healthy diets, low salt and sugar intake, saying no to smoking and maintaining a good body weight as some of the habits that could reduce the risk of deaths from heart disease.
He urged mothers to introduce their children to different kinds of foods during complementary feeding to prevent picky eating while also appealing to pregnant women to consume foods rich in micronutrients such as fish, fruits and vegetables to avoid giving birth to malnourished babies.
To Prof. Chinyere Ezeaka, a Professor of Paediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, physicians needed to take a step further to counsel parents on the nutritional needs of their children, by looking at the background of the children nutrition wise rather than focusing only on urgent medical issues .
To holistically address malnutrition in the country, Ezeaka said physicians in Nigeria must have good knowledge of nutritional education and as well as nutritional counselling to be able to properly educate mothers on the kinds of foods to feed their children with to avoid malnutrition.
Her words: ” We need to improve nutrition in the country and we can achieve this by speaking to parents to get the desired change because once nutrition is addressed, infant deaths will drop.
“Therefore, physicians must take a step further to counsel parents on how to go about the nutrition of their of babies.
And they can only do that by having knowledge in both nutrition education and nutrition counseling for proper nutritional assessment of children that are brought to them for medical attention.”
Ezeaka noted that acquiring both knowledge had become imperative considering the burden of child malnutrition in the country and its devastating health and economic impact.
Inspite of the benefits of nutritional counselling, she revealed that 67 percent of physicians in Nigeria lacked training in nutrition counseling while 62 percent of them also lacked knowledge in nutrition.
In her remarks, Manager, Anglophone Countries, Central and West Africa, Nestle Nutrition Institute, Africa, Mrs. Chioma Emma-Nwachukwu, said the programme would help to equip healthcare providers with the needed knowledge on nutrition and associated issues.
Giving insight into the programme, Emma-Nwachukwu said: “The healthcare professionals don’t have enough nutrition training during their medical training, so, this programme is aimed at closing the gap.
“It is aimed at ensuring that every healthcare professional gets the right nutrition knowledge and is well equipped to make right decisions.
“So, they need to equip our healthcare professionals in the area of nutrition; this is also because investment made in the first 1,000 days has a multiplier effect in later life.’’
She added: “In Nigeria alone for this session, we have trained over 300 healthcare professionals and the graduation is taking place in Lagos and Abuja.”