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Stakeholders chart path towards effective food fortification in Nigeria

Stakeholders from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration & Control (NAFDAC), Federal Government of Nigeria, Association of Food, Beverage & Tobacco Employers (AFBTE), United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have jointly said food fortification with micronutrients is an evidence-based intervention which has been used as an important strategy to control micronutrient deficiencies in a cost-effective manner around the world.

This, they say at the #NigeriaFutureFortified stakeholders dialogue with the theme ‘Sharing our successes and challenges: Align on the way forward,’ in Lagos.

Nigeria is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to mandate the fortification of four food vehicles with micronutrients, namely wheat and maize flour, vegetable oil and sugar.

In his keynote address, the Minister for Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole said, the summit is apt and timely considering that malnutrition is estimated to contribute to more than one-third of all child deaths.

The Minister who was represented by Dr Bisola Akinbisehin said, malnutrition is a condition that develops when the body does not get the right amount of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients it needs to maintain healthy tissues and organ functions.

“Out of about 21 widely known micronutrients needed to maintain healthy life, five of them are of public health significance (Vitamin A, iron, iodine, zinc and folic acid).

“These micronutrients needed significantly add to good health and are necessary for proper growth and development of the body. Infants, young children, teenagers, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and the elderly who are prone to becoming malnourished, require additional nutrients at all times.”

Adewole said, Nigeria has attained remarkable success in addressing micronutrients deficiency problems with the support of partners like GAIN, UNICEF and MI.

Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Dr. Chris Isokpunwu said, “if we have to achieve our goal of reducing micronutrient deficiency in Nigeria, then we have to pay attention to food fortification which is one cheap way of reaching out to everybody especially those at the bottom of the pyramid.

“We are also working on bio-fortification where our food crops are fortified with nutrients before they are grown, that is one way of reaching out to those at the pyramid.”

In her welcome address, the acting Director General of NAFDAC, Mrs Yetunde Oni said, good nutrition signals the realisation of people’s rights to food and health.

Defining food fortification as the act of enhancing the quality of readily available and more affordable foods nutritionally by the addition of some vital minerals and vitamins needed by the body though in minute quantities, the absence of which causes severe diseases; Oni said, good nutrition is an essential driver for sustainable development.

The NAFDAC boss said, “malnutrition takes many forms: wasting and stunting in children, obesity and nutrition related non-communicable diseases. These effects of malnutrition apply in all countries and one in three people on the planet.

“Tackling malnutrition effectively is key to meeting other targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ending malnutrition in Nigeria will drive sustainable development forward. The current funding of nutrition intervention is not enough to meet the 2025 World Health Assembly targets or the 2030 SDGs targets of ending malnutrition in all its forms,” she said.

In an interview with Daily Times, GAIN’s Director of Food Fortification, Greg Garrett said, the data showed that there is still micronutrient deficiency in Nigeria.

“The current food system and diet does not necessarily provide enough nutrients to the Nigerian populace. We believe that food fortification is one way of getting essential vitamins and minerals to the population that need them most in Nigeria.,” he said.

According to UNICEF, malnutrition remains an underlying factor in about one third of Nigerian child deaths and communities in the Northern parts of Nigeria are among the worst affected. It accounts for more than 50 per cent of deaths of children under age 5.

UNICEF representative, Dr Jean Gough said, “It’s not about reaching numbers for food fortification but efforts should be made towards reaching the most vulnerable and the poorest of the poor so that no child dies of malnutrition.”

Also speaking, the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Ado Muhammad of the  who was represented by the Director of Community Health Services, NPHCDA, Dr Emmanuel Odu said,  Vitamin E deficiency contributes to about 25 per cent of death from measles, diarrhoea and malaria.

“It also means that, by the time we are able to handle nutrition among under 5 adequately, we will be saving millions of lives of children. Vitamin A deficiency is responsible for the significant proportion of presentable blindness.”

On the success of food fortification in Nigeria, Garrett said the country has been able to include iodine to the salt for many years, “and now, we are looking at most people having access to iodine in the diet through the salt they use.”

He also commended Nigeria for creating an enabling environment and standard put in place for stable foods to promote food fortification.

However, despite the remarkable success made to build a sustainable system for fortification nationally, the National Fortification Alliance (NFA) said, significant risks remained to be addressed including low quality and compliance of fortified foods, poor quality and commodization of premixes and absence of impact assessment data.

Aside from those,  Dr Isokpunwu said, the activities of smugglers and cottage industries contribute to the challenges encountered.

“There are some products smuggled into the country that are not fortifies and sometimes, they are everywhere in the market. There are also some cottage industries who produce flour that are not regulated in the country and the flour are not fortified.”

Way forward
The stakeholders pledged to address the challenges, strengthen the monitoring system and proffer further solution for effective food fortification in Nigeria.

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