Nigeria’s malnourished children

THE United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently came out with grim statistics about the state of Nigerian children whose future has been compromised on account of poor nutrition. According to it, Kaduna State is worst hit with 1.6 million malnourished children. UNICEF’s nutrition specialist, Dr Florence Oni, disclosed this while presenting the nutrition intervention scorecard during a 2016 mid-year review meeting in Kaduna. She said that half of the children under five years who were suffering from one form of malnutrition or the other had died in the state.

“Currently, over 900,000 children representing 57 percent of children in the state are stunted, meaning six out of every 10 children in the state are stunted due to malnutrition. Also, over 750,000 children are wasted, which implies that 47 percent of the children are suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and are ten times more likely to die.”

These are dismal and disconcerting figures from an authoritative and professional source, showing clearly that these stunted children have a compromised future. Worse still, stunted children may not benefit from the liberal policies made to improve their lot. For instance, they are not likely to learn very quickly and well like their well fed counterparts. Care must therefore be taken to ensure that these figures do not relate directly to the number of future tramps and homeless people in the national population.

The good news is that, according to Dr Florence Oni, the Kaduna State government is already doing something about the situation, including releasing about N37 million to treat 3,060 children, while the UNICEF had equally supported the government with the same amount of money to treat an additional 3,060 children, making a total of 6,120 children to be rescued from the jaws of imminent death.

Unfortunately, this is only a drop of water on a hot plate in terms of impact on the 1.6 million children waiting to be rescued because relief has only come to a very poor fraction of the afflicted. Sadly, vital statistics on the country like the rate of unemployment, inflation and cost of living, not to say standard of living, affirm this reprehensible trend. Arguably, the parents of these malnourished children are from the over 100 million Nigerians that are living below the poverty line amidst the obscene opulence fuelled by ill-gotten wealth of the few rich. If the UNICEF figures are right, the country is fast replacing its demography with a poorer quality of succeeding generation that may not be fit for global competition.Without doubt, an emergency intervention is called for to reverse this ugly trend.

The intervention must indeed be immediate and professional in terms of relief materials, especially the quality and quantity of food that will affect the vulnerable victims of the country’s despicable contradictions. The government must put forth a plan that will ensure an equitable distribution of  relief materials amongst them so that it can measure the impact of the intervention programme. If such an intervention is sustained, the severity of the trend can actually be mitigated or reversed completely. The declaration by the UNICEF tells governments at all levels that there is a desperate need to review their policies and take the duty of improving lives more seriously.

Although the people may not fall in line on account of their fatalistic religious beliefs, government at all levels must embark on awareness campaigns and public education on the folly of siring children without being able to cater for them adequately. It seems obvious that a malnourished society is robbed of its potential for growth and development.

In nature, dynamic entities like societies are never given the option of stagnation. They either progress or retrogress and any delay in the emergency intervention is a vote for retrogression.