As global attention again focuses on the plight of the girl child, the United d Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has thumbs up the action of first Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari and the National Assembly at determining to tackle the plague of malnutrition among Nigerian children.
UNICEF which expressed concern at the estimated 2.5m Nigerian children under the age of five suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) every year noted that SAM is 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.
The UN body’s commendation is coming on the heels of the two-day meeting of the assembly members to channel more positive ways at fulfilling their commitment to alleviate malnutrition among Nigerian children during the last June Parliamentary meeting of West Africa held in Burkina Faso.
Yearly, it is estimated that nearly 420,000 children under five die as a result of this deadly combination in Nigeria.
It is expected that the assembly meeting will come out with concrete 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 among others.
During the last world breastfeeding week on August the Leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress had appealed to the Assembly to modify the three months maternity leave for nursing mothers to Six months as well as Grant at least three to four weeks of paternity leave to fathers to promote exclusive breastfeeding.
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.
According to UNICEF, though 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.