Amidst increasing world’s food insecurity, Nigeria is said to have the highest level of stunted children under the age of five in sub Saharan Africa.
Head of Nutrition Division, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Chris Isokpunwu stated this at a media dialogue on malnutrition which was organised by UNICEF in Ibadan.
Isokpunwu, represented at the dialogue by Mrs Omotayo Ogunbunmi, also a nutrition expert, said Nigeria was the second highest in the world, putting this at 37 per cent.
The expert, added also that 18 per cent and 29 per cent of children in the country were also wasting and underweight respectively, two conditions also suggestive of malnutrition.
Isokpunwu, noting that nutrition has a powerful influence on growth, development and productivity of every individual, stated that malnutrition contributes to about 50 per cent of deaths in children below five in Nigeria.
The expert decried poor investment in nutrition, saying “this has not been commensurate with its contribution to child mortality.”
According to him, “optimum nutrient at each stage of lifestyle is therefore a fundamental human right.”
However, he assured that the Federal government had developed priority areas of focus to tackle the problem.
Mrs Ada Ezeogu, UNICEF’s nutrition expert at Akure, speaking on nutrition interventions, remarked that Nigeria was currently faced a triple burden of under nutrition, over nutrition and micro nutrient deficiency.
Ezeogu, who expressed concern on increasing cases of child malnutrition due to the economic downturn in the country, said stunting affects does not just mental capacity, but makes children short for their age.
According to her, “that is why we talk about the first 1000 days of life. If you do not give that child the nutrient that such a child requires, that child is never going to get to his full potentials in terms of intellect and physic.”
Ezeogu, however, described exclusive breast feeding in first six months of life as beneficial in curtailing malnutrition in children and avert deaths.
According to her, “an estimated 13 per cent of child death can be averted if 90 per cent of mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life.
“Breastfeeding has a wide range of benefits for child survival, for health, for nutrition and health of the child. It provides adequate nutrients and the mother does not need to do anything.”
Earlier, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, represented by Mrs Rose Madu said his ministry had embarked on the media dialogue because many people erroneously believe it was not a problem in South Western Nigeria.
He, however, urged media practitioners to use their platforms to advocate and become advocates to ensure that nutrition has a budget line and that the funds are released timely.