By Sola Ogundipe
The nutrition emergency in the North East of Nigeria continues. Insurgency remains the major factor fuelling malnutrition in the region.
Millions of children in the region suffer various stages of stunting, wasting and other forms of malnutrition.
Projections from the annual Nutrition Sector show that an estimated 440,000 boys and girls under the age of 5 in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, known as the BAY States, will suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM – a life-threatening condition in 2020.
In the North East, the nutrition surveillance data indicate slight improvement on the nutrition situation since the beginning of the response.
However, the wide-spread insecurity, population displacement, poor food security situation, sub-optimal water, Hygiene and Sanitation Practices and high disease burden continue to strain the on-going efforts to curb malnutrition in all its forms in the region.
According to the latest Nutrition Survey, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition, GAM, among boys and girls aged below 5 Years is 11 percent in Borno, 13 percent in Yobe and 6 percent in Adamawa, indicating very high levels of malnutrition according to the World Health Organisation classification.
The steady influx of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, is further worsening the already poor nutrition situation, even as coping mechanisms of the affected communities is already low, further shock would deteriorate nutritional status.
Working through the Nutrition sector, UNICEF and partners are driving for a solid contingency plan for the 2020 response.
From hindsight, a major goal of the 2030 global targets is to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition as well as promote sustainable agriculture.
By 2030, in preparation for ending all forms of malnutrition by 2050, all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, are expected to have access to nutritious and sufficient food all year round.
Also, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, should be met whil;e the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons are addressed.
But no less than 35 million children aged 5 and below in the northeast Nigeria are affected by SAM. The level of GAM, in the region is classified as serious by the World Health Organisation, WHO.
Worse still, the poor nutrition situation is further worsened by poor food security situation, sub-optimal Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene, WASH, practices and high disease burden.
Health experts warn that malnutrition, if not timely identified and treated, has serious and permanent consequences in the growth and development of children.
Data from UNICEF shows that every other death recorded in an under 5 is attributed to malnutrition.
Children suffering from SAM are 4 to 11 times more likely to die compared to their health counter-parts. Worse still, they are immunecompromised, increasing their likelihood to suffer from a range of infections and disease complications.
To ensure the provision of comprehensive treatment of children affected by SAM in 2020 in the BAY States, an estimated N5 billion is required to procure 258,950 cartons of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food, RUTF.
To ensure the provision of comprehensive treatment, UNICEF – the sole pipeline agency for RUTF in the collective response – has funded 29,314 cartons of RUTF, leaving a gap of N4.4 billion for procurement of 229,636 cartons of RUTF.
Also, to support curbing malnutrition in all its forms, UNICEF with funding from DFID is implementing two multisectoral projects to promote positive nutrition outcomes in North East Nigeria.
These are the Flexible Integrated and Timely (FIT) Project in Borno State and the Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN) project in Yobe State.
The FIT project started in April 2019 and will run through March 2022 with a budget of 36 million pounds sterling.
On its own, the WINN project which also began in April 2019 twill span March 2020 with a Budget of 5 million pounds Sterling.
Both projects entail provision of a basic package of nutrition services. To date the FIT and WINN Projects, UNICEF has been able to treat 165,000 children suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition using the RUTF to provide micro-nutrient supplementation to 135,000 children aged 6-23 months and 550,000 pregnant and lactating women were given skilled infant and young child feeding in emergencies counselling to support maternal nutrition and optimum care and feeding practices for their children aged below 2 years.