Nigeria needs N3b to save 3m children from malnutrition

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Due to a lack of access to a healthy diet and medical care, children in Nigeria frequently experience abuse and exploitation as children. Kabiru, a youngster born full of promise, was raised in adversity and destitution. Kabiru’s growing body and brain required all the nutrients despite being supposed to be healthy and robust, underscoring the need for better nutrition and access to healthcare for kids like Kabiru.

Pregnant moms put their unborn children first by giving them critical minerals like calcium and iron. They have less to pass on to their offspring when they eat little to nothing, though. In Nigeria, three million malnourished children rank among the top three causes of child malnutrition, and 7.8 million pregnant women have anemia. Malnutrition is deemed by UNICEF to be an unacceptable global problem that no nation can afford to ignore.

Malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), can feed a vicious cycle of poverty and illness by raising health care expenses, lowering productivity, and slowing economic growth. 35 million children under five are malnourished in Nigeria, leaving 12 million of them stunted, 3 million wasted, and 23.5 million anemic. 17.7 million people were reported as hungry in the 2023 Cadre Report, with 1 million experiencing severe food insecurity. Only 1.4% less stunting occurs on average each year. However, high-impact preventive actions might rescue Nigeria’s future for just N11 000 ($14 000).

John A. Kufour, a former president of Ghana, stated that investing in nutrition has considerable and long-lasting socioeconomic benefits. Shouldn’t we make every effort to provide our kids a healthier future?

In order to reduce malnutrition and enhance diet quality, Nkeiru Enwelum, UNICEF’s nutrition officer, underlined the urgent need for investments and support in nutrition. Enwelum said that failing to stop childhood malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, and underweight, had long-lasting, irreversible effects on a child’s ability to learn and develop physically and cognitively. Nigeria’s GDP is projected to be N506.6 billion in 2023; failing to stop malnutrition costs N76 billion, or 15% of the GDP.

According to Enwelum, a child’s dietary requirements currently cost N11,000, or about $5 per child annually. Treatment prices are over ten times more than they are right now, with vitamin A supplements costing $0.44 each. According to her, N11,000 would provide access to zinc, vitamin A, and ORS for diarrhea for Nigerian children, with the improved ORS supplement also supplying electrolytes.

For kids to avoid malnutrition, it’s crucial to use supplements like multi-micronutrient powder, deworming, folic acid supplementation, iron fortification, and salt iodization.

“It costs N11,000 to give all these preventative measures to a child annually. When we conducted the analysis at this time last year, the CBN rate for 14 dollars was N6,000. The price in dollars remains the same, however that same 14 dollars now equals almost N11,000.

She said it was preferable to avoid than to treat because treating acute malnutrition and severe acute malnutrition costs 131 dollars (N100,000), which were global estimates converted to naira.

“Prevention is preferable to cure when building an investment argument. These interventions—iron fortification and salt iodization—are given through the healthcare system and are managed by the agricultural industry.

“Consider that if you spend N100,000 and don’t stop one child from becoming malnourished, you could save the lives of 10 other children. In a sense, the expense of treatment prevents 10 additional kids from receiving the initial preventative they may have otherwise received. We must stop malnutrition. In essence, malnutrition needs to be treated in order to save the child’s life.

“Cognitive and growth effects may result from a lack of treatment and prevention.” Households may experience an income loss as a result. A sick infant means the mother is off the job. When you work from 9 to 5, you will take days off, be distracted, and think about your child often. Stress might often cause you to get sick as well, which will limit your income.

“Integrated management of acute malnutrition costs N100,000 ($130), which is 10 times more expensive than prevention. As a result, not all of the three million malnourished children are receiving therapy because it is exceedingly expensive. They will suffer from stunting if it is not done, and some of them will die if it is. Stunting, mental development, and cognitive effect are all linked, and this will have an influence on the household’s economic loss, poor academic achievement, and higher morbidity.

Governments were encouraged by the UNICEF Nutrition Officer to increase financing for nutrition interventions and ensure prompt receipt of money. During a two-day media dialogue on child malnutrition in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, she stated: “Government expenditure on nutrition is inadequate. Budgetary release at the national and subnational levels is insufficient and does not correspond to the budgetary allotment. Both more money and more food must be available for purchase.

“This has not yet been accomplished, despite the reaffirmed promise to give financial nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive measures priority. We must make sure that nutrition interventions take into account other economic sectors, like agriculture, the environment, and water resources, among others. This will guarantee that each sector is contributing in the right way.

Additionally, there is a critical need to scale up nutrition initiatives across the nation, particularly at the state and local government area (LGA) levels, which are considered subnational.

She talked about preventive measures like deworming, iron-folic acid supplementation, iron fortification of staple foods, salt iodization, community nutrition programs, vitamin A and zinc supplements, micronutrient powders, and salt iodization. She voiced sadness at the underfunding of nutrition in the federal budget.

“It’s like when your boss promises to pay you N150, 000 per month but only pays you N20,000 at the end of the month—less than 30% of what you had originally committed to. That’s always the case with nutrition.

“We consistently receive less funding than the government budgeted because many of our programs are constrained, we are unable to successfully implement prevention interventions, and the rate of malnutrition is rising, requiring us to spend more on treatment.”

The money on the budget line is not totally allocated, she claimed, despite the fact that departments have been set up to make funding distribution simple.

Experts note that, notwithstanding the existing widespread food insecurity, malnutrition at all levels is predicted to get worse as Nigeria’s multidimensional poverty level rises. The Nigerian government urgently needs to consider significant investments in nutrition as it develops its next budget in the coming months in order to give the children a chance to breathe. While malnutrition in all its forms imposes high costs directly and indirectly on the nation, it also overstretches the already weak economy while having economic repercussions at the individual, household, and community levels.

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