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Parents helpless as malnutrition ravages 7 northern states

The rising cases of acute malnutrition in seven northern states of the country are generating concerns, Daily Trust Saturday reports. The Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF),…

The rising cases of acute malnutrition in seven northern states of the country are generating concerns, Daily Trust Saturday reports.

The Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors without Borders, recently raised the alarm over an overwhelming influx of severely malnourished children at its medical facilities in seven Northern states. 

The affected states, according to a statement issued by the MSF Field Communication Officer in Nigeria, Abdulkareem Yakubu, include Kano, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi. 

The global humanitarian organisation indicated that the MSF in-patient facilities in Northern Nigeria have recently recorded an “Extraordinary increase in admissions of severely malnourished children with life-threatening complications,” surpassing last year’s figures by over 100 per cent in some locations. 

“For the MSF teams, this is an alarming indication of a premature peak of the lean season and the increase in acute malnutrition that accompanies it, typically anticipated in July. We are resorting to treating patients on mattresses on the floor because our facilities are full. Children are dying. 

“If immediate action is not taken, more lives hang in the balance. Everyone needs to step in to save lives and allow the children of Northern Nigeria to grow free from malnutrition and its disastrous long-term if not fatal, consequences,” said MSF’s Country Representative in Nigeria, Simba Tirima. 

MSF called for urgent humanitarian assistance, urging Nigerian authorities, international organisations, and donors to take immediate action to diagnose and treat malnourished children and engage in long-term initiatives to address the root causes of the crisis. 

Kano 

When Daily Trust Saturday visited Hasiya Bayero Pediatric Hospital in Kano State, there were many severely malnourished children on admission.  

Many parents of the malnourished children interviewed attributed the rising malnutrition cases to the rising cost of food items in the country.  

Speaking, a mother of 12, Hauwa Adamu Bachirawa said they hardly eat three square meals in a day, not talk to talk of preparing a special food for her sick child as doctors suggested. 

“When I noticed she was becoming lean, I took her to the hospital, and they told me that she is suffering from severe malnourishment”, said the mother of 12.

“The nurse told me that she was suffering from malnutrition. She advised us to improve her diet. But we cannot afford it. So that is the reason why her condition deteriorates. Let’s be frank with you, we don’t eat three times a day.” 

She told Daily Trust Saturday that she only gives the girl any available food.

“You know the economic hardship we are facing in the country. We normally eat tuwo and miyar kuka (Baobab soup) and we cook rice once in a while.”

Another woman, Rukayya Usaini told Daily Trust Saturday that her patient is her eighth child.

The Head of the Nutrition Department at Hasiya Bayero Pediatric Hospital, Lami Idris Babale, said the facility has recently recorded an extraordinary increase in admissions of severely malnourished children with life-threatening. 

“I can tell you that now, we receive many parents more than before”, said Babale.

She added that malnourishment these days is not only happening in rural areas but even in urban areas. She also said that the disease mainly happens in large families. 

The Kano State government said it will be taking a bold step in addressing the challenge of acute malnutrition.

The State Nutrition Officer, Ministry of Health, Rakiya Balarabe told Daily Trust Saturday that the state government was trying its best with the support of MSF in providing Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for the acute malnourished children.

Furthermore, the state government is planning to revive the centres in the state, as well as, establish stabilising centres for malnourished children.

She added that the state government has many projects to prevent malnourishment in the state.

“We have so many projects to improve the well-being of pregnant women and under five years children, in order, to prevent the occurrence of malnutrition in the state. We have programmes where we distribute some medicines such as folic acid to pregnant women, and zinc to the children.’’

Borno

In Borno, the inability of displaced persons to access farms to get food due to activities of the Boko Haram terrorists has compounded their situation, exacerbating the malnutrition problem.

Bintu Koma, a housewife with seven children and whose child is one of the thousands of children facing malnutrition as a result of hunger in the camp said they have been facing starvation and hunger since their arrival from the camp in Maiduguri to the camp in their ancestral home.

“The security situation is still worrisome. That is why cases of malnutrition are common everywhere in the hospitals. Governor Zulum is collaborating with the Nigerian military to see that the area is opened for people to do business and farm to get incentives to survive. We need access to our farmlands; this is the only thing that saves us from hunger,” she said.

Speaking to our correspondent, some of the IDPs and residents, said lack of access to food is responsible for the hunger and starvation, which has resulted in thousands of children facing malnutrition, especially among resettled persons in the state.

They maintained that when they were resettled, the token provided for them by the government sustained them for a while but when the items finished, efforts to farm on their lands for survival were crippled by the frequent invasion of terrorists who usually harvest their crops.

They alluded that further efforts by resorting to the felling of trees to make firewood and charcoal to sell and buy food items were crippled by the constant killing of their people by the terrorists in the forest.

“The only means of livelihood to us is felling of trees to make firewood. NGOs have stopped giving us monthly food support due to the ban by the state government, so we have to risk our lives to get firewood done.

“The state government gave us palliatives three months ago during the holy month of Ramadan, which helped us. I can tell you we eat once daily in my house including the little ones.

“Our problem here is food and water. The restriction of our movement by the military due to the presence of the Boko Haram terrorists is equally affecting our chances of going out to do business and work to fend for our family members,” a resident of New Marte told our correspondent.

A health practitioner, Bulama Abdullahi decried the increased acute malnutrition among children at MSF hospitals in Maiduguri.

He added that even though the state government has been trying its best to distribute food items and other support to the families, which has helped, adding, however, that many families couldn’t have access to basic nutritious meals for their children.

“Honestly, I must commend the efforts of the Zulum administration in terms of food distribution to the affected populace in the state. Unfortunately, our challenge in Borno State is peculiar because the insurgency has worsened the situation already. I don’t think there is any state that supports families like what we have in Borno State. Zulum is really trying his best in this regard.

“In recent weeks, the cases of acute malnutrition have been rising, especially in Jere, Konduga, Marte, Maiduguri and others. MSF facilities in Gwange and behind CBN have been busy due to unprecedented admissions. I think more needed to be done to support families who are struggling.”

When contacted, Phuong T. Nguyen, UNICEF Chief of Borno Field Office said the alarming rates of acute malnutrition among children have further worsened the humanitarian crises in the Northeast region.

She noted that families were struggling to provide nutrients needed for the children due to the high cost of food and limited access to farmlands as a result of insecurity in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.

“During the lean season, an increased number of children aged under 5 years are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition.  In Jan – Mar 2024, the trend of acute malnutrition in children is around 40% higher than the same period last year.  For instance, the April 2024 nutrition programme data for northeast Nigeria indicates over 40,000 children are diagnosed with acute malnutrition, also known as wasting. 

“Severe wasting is the most lethal form of acute malnutrition, the chances of death are higher, if not treated promptly with specially formulated foods such as ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).

“Given the negative impact of acute malnutrition in children below 5 years, UNICEF is mobilising resources and working with partners to prevent wasting and at the same time scaling-up identification and treatment for children identified with severe wasting in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states”, she said.

Sokoto

Gagi District in Sokoto South Local Government Area of Sokoto State is one of the areas with a high number of malnourished children because it camped hundreds of internally displaced persons.

The area shares a border with some communities that have been experiencing security challenges in Rabah Local Government Area.

Our checks revealed that the only clinic in the area admits not less than 20 malnourished children in a month and the majority of them suffer acute severe malnourishment.

One of the service providers in the Gagi Primary Health Centre, Migdad Ibrahim, however, attributed the surge in cases of malnourishment to insecurity, lack of immunisation and current economic hardship in the country, as well as, poor feeding practices.

“Every month, we receive and distribute 100 cartons of Ready To Use Therapeutic Food otherwise known as Tamowa and 60 cartons of Small Quantity Lipid-Base Nutrients Supplement (SQ-LNS), which are not enough because the cases are increasing,” he said.

Tamowa is for the treatment of severe malnutrition while the supplement is for the prevention of the disease.

Ibrahim noted that they needed at least 40 more cartons to bridge the gap, in addition to other equipment.

He also said the clinic has been overstretched because over 20,000 patients visit it monthly, out of which 9,000 were cases of malnutrition.

“As I am talking to you, there is no paediatric section in the hospital and you know malnourishment usually attacks under five children.

While lamenting over the current hardship in the country, Ibrahim noted that some of their treated patients used to be brought back for another round of treatment because their parents could not afford to provide them with the kind of food they required.

According to the Nutrition Specialist of UNICEF in the Sokoto Field Office, Abraham Mahama, 50,000 out of the 297,832 severely malnourished children were admitted to various health facilities being supported by UNICEF in the state as at May 2023.

Sokoto dedicates 15% of 2024 budget for malnourished children – Dep gov

Meanwhile, the Sokoto State government said it has allocated 15 per cent of its 2024 budget for the fight against malnutrition in the state.

This was disclosed by the deputy governor, Engineer Idris Gobir during the World NOMA Day celebration organised by the Medicine San Frontier in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. The state proposed a N270.1 billion budget for the 2024 fiscal year.

“We are worried by the alarming rate of malnutrition in the state and our government is committed to reversing this ugly trend.

Gobir however, commended MSF for supporting the state to treat and rehabilitate malnourished and noma-infected children.

Already, the state has flagged off the distribution of Tamowa in the state.

The Commissioner for Health, Asabe Balarabe said the state government deemed it necessary to provide the RUTF in order to improve the health status of children suffering from malnutrition and those affected by strange diseases known as ascites.

Asabe Balarabe revealed that already the state government had earmarked huge resources for the procurement of the RUTF for distribution in all the general hospitals across the state.

The commissioner informed that the ministry in collaboration with all stakeholders had made adequate arrangements to ensure that the gesture reached the targeted children.

She warned health personnel in the state against diverting the RUTF, adding that anyone found in the act would be dealt with accordingly.

To this end, Asabe Balarabe advised parents to make the best use of the gesture to improve the health status of their children.

Speaking, the Director General of Sokoto State Drugs and Supply Management Agency, Pharmacist Umar Attahiru challenged health personnel involved in the distribution exercise to monitor the usage of the gesture as it is only meant for children suffering from malnutrition and those suffering from Ascites disease.

Kebbi

Malnutrition cases among children in Kebbi State have over the months become worrisome not only to parents but government. It has become more worrisome in recent times as cases of malnourished children are recorded at various healthcare facilities in the state.

At some of the primary healthcare centres and general hospitals visited in Birnin Kebbi, the state capital, a number of children suffering from malnutrition are being treated.

When our correspondent visited the primary healthcare at Badariya in Birnin Kebbi, no fewer than nine children were being treated for malnutrition. It was the same scenario at the other PHCs visited in the metropolis.

A mother, Aishatu Buhari, who spoke to our correspondent said three out of her five children are currently receiving treatment for malnutrition. She said Ahmad 5, Ibrahim 3 and Dauda 1, were all suffering from malnutrition.

“There is little I could do to feed them well. Food items are very expensive in this area, we can’t even afford any of these food items,” she said.

She added that her children only eat tuwo made from maize most times, once a day, and sometimes fura to supplement the breast milk she couldn’t fully give her one-year-old baby.

A 26-year-old mother, Halima Aliyu said she was advised to breastfeed her baby exclusively for six months but couldn’t sustain it.

“When she was two years old, I realised that her tummy was becoming bigger and she was looking thinner and sick. When I took her to the hospital, they told me she was not feeding well. I really don’t know what to do because we don’t have all the food items, they told me to feed her with”, she said.

A nurse at the PHC said most of the cases they are currently treating at the health centre are malnutrition-related.

“I think the mothers still need more counselling on what to feed their children with. Apart from this, I think the economic situation is a major factor in the prevalent cases of malnourished children”, she said.

A civil society organisation, CS-SUNN in collaboration with UNICEF, a few months ago gave an alarming figure on the malnutrition issue in the state.

It said 66.1 per cent of children under five years in Kebbi State are stunted; 46.4 per cent are underweight and 12.3 per cent are wasted.

In response to this, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry for Budget and Economic Planning, Hajiya Aisha Usman said the nutrition indices in the state are not good.

“We want to reverse it for the good of Kebbi State and its people. We will concretise action on nutrition for 2024”, she said.

Special Adviser to the Governor on Non-Governmental Organisations, Alhaji Usman Buhari during a one-day media engagement by CS-SUNN in Birnin Kebbi said the state government is already taking appropriate measures on issues of nutrition and the administration of Governor Idris is serious about health, particularly nutrition.

Zamfara

Also, in Zamfara State, in-patient centres in Shinkafi and Zurmi saw a 30 per cent increase in admissions in April compared to March, while Talata Mafara’s facility experienced a 20 per cent increase.

Daily Trust reports that the MSF had in December last year, temporarily evacuated a number of its staff from some of its facilities in Zamfara State, a development that some residents say might lead to a serious setback in the area of healthcare delivery, especially in rural areas.

Residents of Bagega, Abare, Dareta, Yar Galma and Nasarawa in Anka and Bukkuyyum local governments were among those affected by the problem of malnutrition among children in Zamfara State.

According to some residents, the partial withdrawal of healthcare services by the MSF in the state has compounded the situation.

Malam Hamisu Isyaku, a resident of Bagega confirmed that the cases of malnutrition among children are on the increase in the area, noting that “Most of the children brought to the MSF facility here are for malnutrition. They are being given milk.

Bauchi

In Bauchi, there is also concern over rising malnutrition amidst the current economic hardship associated with the removal of fuel subsidy.

Findings revealed that hundreds of nursing mothers, other parents and their malnourished children swarmed the Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAN) centres at the designated primary healthcare centres in three local governments of Bauchi, Ganjuwa and Ningi for attention.

State Nutrition Officer in Bauchi, Abubakar Saleh, recently disclosed that a total of 4,384 children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) have been admitted for treatment across 14 Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) centres in the state.

When our correspondent visited the Kofar Ran Primary Healthcare Clinic in Bauchi, he observed dozens of nursing mothers and their malnourished children being attended to at the facility and some of the mothers attributed the cause of malnutrition to the economic hardship, which made it difficult to feed the children with nutritious food.

A visit to Yelwa Domiciliary Healthcare Centre, Bauchi recently indicated that about 400 malnourished babies are recorded during their hospital’s nutrition days’ visits.  

The Nutrition Officer at the Yelwa PHC, Mukhtar Ahmad said that there has been a sudden upsurge in the cases of severely malnourished babies due to poor intake of food with adequate nutrients.

 

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