In what seemed an admission of failure, a Nigerian official on Monday said about 2.5 million Nigerian children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition.
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, said even those who survive the ordeal could end up with lower Intelligent Quotient (IQ), stunted growth, impaired physical and cognitive ability with resultant negative effects on their performance in school and productivity in later life.
These grim statistics were reeled out by the official at the flag-off of the 2018 Nutrition Week Celebration.
In his keynote address at the event held in Abuja on Monday, the minister, who was represented by his ministry’s Permanent Secretary, S.O.S Odewale described the statistics as ‘worrisome’.
“Malnutrition is sometimes referred to as the silent killer because if not attended to, particularly in young children, it can lead to death. It is for this reason that the state of Nigeria’s food and nutrition is of interest the Government at all levels in Nigeria.”
Themed “Nutrition – An Emergency”, this year’s week-long event, the third edition of the Nutrition week is being coordinated by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning. It aims at sensitising Nigerians on the importance of nutrition.
Mr Udoma explained that the theme of the event was chosen to draw attention to the urgent measures that need to be taken in combating malnutrition.
“This Nutrition week, which we observe annually has been helping to create awareness regarding the importance of food and nutrition on child survival and its impact on development, productivity, economic growth and national development.
“Returns from programmes geared towards improving nutrition generally outweigh their ultimate costs while delays in addressing malnutrition have high costs in terms of reduced productivity and, sometimes, higher budget outlay in addressing the consequences of malnutrition.
”It is for this reason that we have created a dedicated budget line for nutrition in my ministry. We also suggest that other relevant ministries, departments and agencies also do same,” the minister said.
Bunmi Lawan, a nutritionist, in her presentation at the event explained the consequences of malnutrition in children especially in first 1000 days of life.
“My presentation on micro-nutrient deficiency means that in the 1000 days of life which starts from day of conception to two years after birth is a typical period for every child. In that period, the mother and the baby need optimal nutrition and when there is deficiency in nutrition, it results to anomalies,” Mrs Lawan said.
“One of deficiency is children born with congenital anomaly, children born still-birth. Many children are born still- birth and about 40 per cent of them are with congenital anomaly which can be prevented with evidence based intervention.”
She tasked the government to invest more on micro-nutrients, ”especially folic acid fortification”, which she described as the optimal nutrient the body requires for the formation of the brain and the spinal cord.
The nutritionist also called on cooperate organisations, banks and communication companies to join in the creation of more awareness on dangers of malnutrition.
Lilian Ajah-mong, the communication officer, Civil Societies Scaling-Up Nutrition in Nigeria, CS-SUNN, an advocacy group and co-organisers of the event, explained why nutrition has become an emergency.
“It is actually an emergency because if you check the Multi Indicator Cluster Survey of 2016/2017, you will see there is a disconnect. As we are trying to eradicate the scourge of malnutrition, it still increases but when it becomes an emergency, all stakeholders will wake up to do what they should to ensure it is eradicated through increased funding for nutrition evaluation intervention,” she explained.
Apart from the one-day press briefing, the week long event will include the validation of the reviewed National Multi-Sectoral plan of Action on Food and Nutrition, advocacy in churches and mosques as well as symposia and public enlightenment campaigns on dangers of malnutrition.