The UNICEF says it applauds action this week by the Wife of the President, Aisha Buhari as well as by parliamentarians to address the urgent need to tackle child malnutrition in Nigeria.
An estimated 2.5 million Nigerian children under the age of five suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) every year – an extremely dangerous condition that makes children nine times more likely to die from common childhood illnesses such as such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. Every year, nearly 420,000 children under five die as a result of this deadly combination in Nigeria.
UNICEF observed that more than 80 parliamentarians meeting today and tomorrow at the National Assembly are discussing ways they can follow up on commitments they made at a parliamentary meeting in June in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to protect children from malnutrition.
The Nigerian parliamentarians will plan support for Nigeria’s Action Plan to encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life; they will also discuss how to better coordinate action to combat malnutrition across all 36 states and better deliver nutrition solutions for children.
Wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, is leading the charge among Nigeria’s influential Wives of Governors to join her in becoming champions to address the country’s ongoing nutrition crisis. Mrs. Buhari, who established her ‘Future Assured’ campaign to end child malnutrition in Nigeria two years ago, spent Monday working with the Wife of the Vice President, Wives of Governors, Government agencies, UNICEF and partners to advocate for improved healthcare and nutrition for women and children.
Although the problem is more widespread in northern Nigeria, there are malnourished children in every Nigerian state. Chronic malnutrition can lead to stunting, leaving children physically and/or mentally under-developed for the rest of their lives. Over 11 million children in Nigeria are stunted – a huge drain on the future of the country.
Steps to prevent children becoming malnourished include supporting and encouraging mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months of life; educating families about the correct feeding practices for older babies and children; and provision of micronutrient supplements and vitamins and fortified food for pregnant women and young children.
Children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition need medical treatment. An innovative and cost-effective way of treating malnourished children was first introduced in 2009 and has since expanded to 12 northern states. This Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme has treated over two million children since it was first introduced in Nigeria, at a cost of just US$160 per child.
Treatment generally lasts for about eight weeks, during which mothers and care-givers of children suffering from SAM bring their children once a week to a primary health care facility, where they are given advice and information about how to care for their malnourished children and supplied with packages of Ready-To-use-Therapeutic Food – known as RUTF – which gives malnourished children the critical nutrients they need to recover.
RUTF, frequently referred to as ‘miracle food,’ is a peanut-based paste, which also contains milk powder, sugar and multiple micronutrients. A Lagos-based Nigerian company, DABS, has recently received international certification to produce RUTF for the treatment of SAM, so the provision of RUTF will no longer be dependent on imports.
The British charity, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), which has provided almost $60 million to cover the cost of CMAM in Nigeria’s 12 northern states since 2013, has issued a challenge to the leaders of those states to fulfil their commitment to provide counterpart funding and even to go beyond.
If the states are able to raise $16million to fund SAM treatment in 2017 and 2018, CIFF has pledged to provide and additional matching $16 million.