The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the Boko Haram insurgency has complicated malnutrition in Nigeria, with severe acute malnutrition affecting over 900,000 children in three northeastern states of the country.
Speaking at a media dialogue on child malnutrition in Yola, Adamawa State on Wednesday, a nutrition expert for UNICEF, Bamidele Omotola, said child malnutrition has become an emergency in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states in the region.
The media dialogue, organised by UNICEF and sponsored by the Department for International Development (DFID), is tagged “Investing in child malnutrition for the future.”
Malnutrition is a condition that occurs when people consistently do not consume or absorb the right amounts and types of food and essential nutrients. Globally, it contributes to nearly half of all child deaths — that is more than three million children each year.
Mr Omotola said over 25 million under-five children suffered wasting and over 10 million stunting across the country.
He noted that the high prevalence of malnutrition has remained precarious in that part of Nigeria due to the Boko Haram insurgency there.
He lamented that malnutrition is worst in the North of Nigeria, despite the region producing various food items in mass quantities.
“The mortality rate was higher before the insurgency but there were improvements that had come. But the insurgency only worsened the situation because the livelihood of the people has been destroyed, health facilities have been destroyed, water is no longer available because water structures have been destroyed and where people need to go in order to get succour, they can’t go there; health workers cannot go there.
“There is need to ameliorate the nutrition situation in the northeast, it is a ticking time bomb. It is not only in terms of the mortality rates that are coming out, but the devastation of the lives of children and women living in those areas,” Mr Omotola said.
He stated that present statistics had shown that one in six children suffered from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in the three emergency-affected states in the Northeast, one in seven children suffered SAM in nine northern states while one in 77 children were affected in the remaining part of the country.
Mr Omotola identified poverty, maternal nutrition, insurgency, high food insecurity, increasing spread of endemic diseases and low coverage of immunisation programmes as factors affecting malnutrition in the northern part of Nigeria.
He called for collaboration in investment in child malnutrition for a better future.
He urged the federal government to do more in terms of releasing funds meant for addressing health-related issues in the country.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, noted that malnutrition constitutes a serious setback to the socio-economic development of Nigeria.
Represented by the Head of Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the ministry, Olumide Osanyinpeju, the minister said sustainable growth in Nigeria cannot be achieved without prioritised efforts to scale up and sustain investment for nutrition.
The UNICEF communication specialist, Geoffrey Njoku, stated that objective of the media dialogue was to present fact and figure on the current situation of malnutrition in Nigeria.
He urged all participants to explore various media tools to take messages on the malnutrition situation to the policymakers so as to prompt them to come up with policies that would bring positive change.