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Malnutrition: Why Plateau must actualise infant nutrition in communities

Correct and proper infant nutrition is fundamental to a child’s continued health. From birth through adulthood, and feeding in the first three years of life…

Correct and proper infant nutrition is fundamental to a child’s continued health. From birth through adulthood, and feeding in the first three years of life is particularly important due to its role in lowering morbidity and mortality, reducing the risk of chronic disease throughout their life span, and promoting regular mental and physical development.

Experts said malnutrition during the first two years of life causes stunting, while fulfillment of nutrition, especially in the first 1,000 days of life, is the first move to avoid stunting. Also, breastfeeding continues to make an important nutritional contribution well beyond the first year of life, and exclusive breastfeeding plays a crucial role in preventing stunting in toddlers.

According to the National Library of Medicine, adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood is essential to ensure the growth, health, and development of children to their full potential, while poor nutrition increases the risk of illness, and is responsible, directly or indirectly, for several deaths in children less than 5 years of age. Inappropriate nutrition can also lead to childhood obesity which is an increasing public health problem in many countries.

“Early nutritional deficits are also linked to long-term impairment in growth and health. Malnutrition during the first 2 years of life causes stunting, leading to the adult being several centimetres shorter than his or her potential height. There is evidence that adults who were malnourished in early childhood have impaired intellectual performance. They may also have reduced capacity for physical work.

“The first two years of life provide a critical window of opportunity for ensuring children’s appropriate growth and development through optimal feeding. Based on evidence of the effectiveness of interventions, achievement of universal coverage of optimal breastfeeding could prevent 13% of deaths occurring in children less than 5 years of age globally, while appropriate complementary feeding practices would result in an additional 6% reduction in under-five mortality,” the National Library of Medicine has said.

So, there is every need for the government at all levels in Nigeria to take seriously the issue of infant feeding and to boost it in order to avoid malnutrition and its attendant consequences. This is because there are several cases of malnutrition among children across the country over the years.

In Plateau State, children in three local government areas were said to be at risk of malnutrition and stunting. This revelation was made in September 2020 by then Executive Secretary of the State Primary Healthcare Board, Dr Livinus Miapkwap.

He said it is already alarming that children between six and 59 weeks are experiencing stunting and if the state is not careful, the situation may get to that of the North East region of the country where children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

The three LGAs said to be facing malnutrition were Jos North, Mangu and Shendam, and the need for urgent intervention to reverse the trend was stressed.

Miapkwap had spoken during a three-day training organised by the board in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Infant Young Child Feeding (IYCF) for health workers in the three identified LGAs, in order to build their capacity to support community members in ensuring acceptable feeding practices that will boost the health of the children.

“Statistics show that stunting rate is rising in the state and if Plateau is not careful, it may get to an alarming rate. Mothers need to have information about exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition, we need to do something so that our situation does not get as bad as what is happening in the North East of Nigeria,” he said.

In his remarks at the programme, Chief of UNICEF’s Bauchi Field Office had lamented the increasing rate of malnutrition among children in the North, and that over the years, UNICEF has championed the IYCF practice using support groups to deliver key messages to nursing mothers and other caregivers including fathers in urban and rural communities to sensitise them on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and its early initiation.

According to the indicators, he said the situation of Plateau is stable, but stunting and moderate acute malnutrition is on the rise, adding that the first line of intervention is to prevent malnutrition and support mothers and caregivers on appropriate complementary feeding.

On her part, the Director of Primary Health Care in Jos North Local Government Area, Rebecca Nimlan, who lamented the rising cases of malnutrition in the area noted that malnourishment is prevalent in the bare, saying that the sanitary conditions are poor, 15% of the population are not drinking clean water, drainage is not maintained and wells are not covered. She then called for collaborative efforts to reverse the trend of malnutrition in the communities.

Recently also, the Chief of UNICEF Nigeria, Bauchi Field Office, Dr Tushar Rane, said despite the commendable efforts, Plateau State still faces significant challenges in addressing malnutrition.  He said statistics from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2021) highlight concerning figures, such as low percentages of children receiving minimum dietary diversity.

Meanwhile, the Plateau State government in May signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with UNICEF to support Child Nutrition Fund (CNF) intervention in the state. At the signing of the MoU, Dr Tushar Rane commended the state’s contribution of $200,000, saying they too (UNICEF) made a $200,000 contribution to the CNF for greater impact of women and children in Plateau State.

In his remarks, Governor Caleb Mutfwang called for utmost seriousness in handling the project, saying the project will have tremendous impact in the state. He advised those in charge of its implementation to know that much is expected from them, adding that his administration would do everything possible to support the initiative.

The MoU signing was immediately followed by a media dialogue in Gombe State on age-appropriate complementary feeding for children aged 6 to 23 months, organised by UNICEF Bauchi Field Office. It convened 65 journalists from Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, and Taraba states. The dialogue aimed to advance understanding and advocacy for effective complementary feeding practices to ensure the comprehensive development of children.

UNICEF’S Communication Officer, Mr Opeyemi Olagunju, highlighted the young child nutrition indicators in the region, saying advocacy for more investment in preventing malnutrition is imperative, as well as understanding the role of complementary feeding in child development and to understand the child nutrition fund and to promote the fund as a strategic approach for government to address nutrition concerns in their states.

On her part, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Bauchi Field Office, Mrs Philomena Irene, provided insights into Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF), highlighting existing interventions in Infant and Young Child Nutrition and emphasising the role of the government, key stakeholders, and the media in addressing stunting.

Meanwhile, early this month, June, 2024, Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) also known as Doctors Without Borders, has said it is facing an overwhelming influx of severely malnourished children in seven northern states at its medical facilities.

So, it is imperative for the affected states to begin to take the necessary action to halt this trend because of its negative consequences. And since Plateau State does not have an entirely clean slate/record in this respect, the government should put all the necessary measures in place to boost and actualise infant nutrition in communities to avoid malnutrition and stunting.

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