‘Nigeria has highest level of stunted children in sub Saharan Africa’

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.