Tackling malnutrition to boost economy

Child malnutrition is a huge burden on the economy as up to 8 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost to it annually. To stop this trend, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a non-governmental organisation, held a one-day legislative summit with lawmakers from five of the most affected states in the North, with a view to using the instrumentality of law to reverse the trend and boost the economy. Sulaimon Olanrewaju reports.

About 2.2million children in Northern Nigeria face acute malnutrition. These are children who would most likely grow into adulthood and become liabilities to the economy rather than being assets because the effect of malnourishment is life-long. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), malnutrition increases health care costs, reduces productivity and slows economic growth, which can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and ill-health.

Available statistics shows that 32 per cent of Nigerian children experience malnutrition. This is traceable to the rising poverty rate in the country. According to the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, about 90 million Nigerians currently live in poverty across the country. The poorer people get, the less they care about the quality and quantity of their food intake and, not only does this predispose them to illnesses, it also impedes their contribution to the nation’s economic growth.

The consistent dwindling financing for nutrition in the national and states’ budgetary allocation is a serious concern that, if not promptly addressed, may exacerbate cases of SAM with resultant child mortality in the country.

Worried by this trend,  Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), led by its Executive Director, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, organized a legislative summit on the prevention and treatment of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) for speakers, chairs of committees on health and appropriation as well as clerks of Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, and Kastina State Houses of Assembly, including state nutrition officers and civil society organisations in the states, in view of the funding challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how to mitigate same.

The one-day summit held at Bafra International Hotel, Kaduna State, afforded key stakeholders in children nutrition as well as lawmakers to brainstorm on how to rescue the millions of Nigerian children subjected to inadequate nutrition from the scourge.

In his opening remarks, the convener, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, the Executive Director of CISLAC, said the essence of the summit was to proffer solutions to the lingering problem of malnutrition of children in some northern states. He said everyone in attendance at the summit should be worried about the fact that no fewer than 2.2 million out of 2.5 million severely acute malnourished children in Nigeria are from the North.

The CISLAC boss stated further, “We find it worrisome that during the review exercise of the 2020 federal government budget as a response to COVID-19 impact, the N800 million that was initially allocated for the procurement of Ready-To-Use-Therapeutic-Food (RUTF) was expunged. We also note, with serious concern, that the one hundred and forty-six million, fourteen thousand naira (N146,014,000) allocated for the treatment of severe acute malnourished children in the proposed 2021 appropriation bill currently with the National Assembly is grossly inadequate to cater for the millions of children requiring treatment from Severe Acute Malnutrition in the country.”

The opening remarks provided the needed impetus for the legislators from the five target states to share experiences on their role towards sustainable and improved nutrition funding in their states.

The legislators said the summit had opened their eyes to understand their state nutrition situation, adding that this would guide them in making commitments on how they could ensure that Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) prevention and treatment is properly focused and prioritised as a human rights issue through appropriate legislative interventions.

The invited nutrition officers, in their presentations, narrated how their respective states were trying to get rid of the ugly trend but also identified some of the challenges. The nutrition officer from Gombe State said the government had adopted different strategies in order to address the problem of malnutrition in the state by implementing various interventions and basic nutrition packages for women and children to access the services. And, in order to strengthen and ensure continuity of the nutrition activities in the state, the state government approved N75 million for procurement of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) in the current year. Out of this, N25milion was released to UNICEF and 1,159 cartons of RUTF were procured and distributed to the implementing LGAs. The State Committee on Food and Nutrition (SCFN) and LGAs Committee on Food and Nutrition (LCFN) were functional, with developed nutrition cost plan of action and nutrition policy, sign and approved.  And so far, they have recorded success story.

An update on Kano nutrition in the last quarter also showed distribution of de-worming tablets for adolescents nutrition programme between the ages of 10 and 19 years across the 44 LGAs. With support from UNICEF, the state conducted a 4-day annual operational plan for the health sector and MDAs in preparation for 2021. It also held a virtual meeting with Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) Secretariat Abuja, on strengthening State Committee on Food and Nutrition.

And for Katsina, the nutrition situation is characterised by a double burden of malnutrition with about one third of the children under five years stunted.

In Bauchi State, only UNICEF is supporting CMAM, MNP and IYCF, no other IP/NGO is taking part.

While sensitization programmes on radio and television are ongoing, the major problems identified as impediments are inadequate information to care givers on the differences between polio vaccine and Vitamin A and inadequate knowledge on complementary foods.

CISLAC and its team said they believed problems identified were the first step to arriving at a solution, saying it was essential to open critical deliberation on the developmental challenge at hand. CISLAC expressed the hope that a result-oriented deliberation would be applied in support of legislative and policy processes towards sustainable prevention and treatment of SAM in Nigeria.

In unity, the house of assembly speakers in their statements expressed their commitment to do more towards improving budgetary allocations to nutrition.

After deliberating exhaustively on various thematic issues, the following observations, recommendations and action points were noted for implementation. It was observed that the dreaded impacts of malnutrition include monumental economic and productivity losses, irreparable potential loss, increased susceptibility to communicable diseases and other infections.

In their recommendations at the end of the summit, the house speakers from Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, and Kastina states said there was the need for increased empathy, acknowledgement, regional consciousness and ownership of the SAM issue by leaders at all levels of government as this would help achieve improved budgeting and release of funds for SAM in the states. They also agreed that there is need for collaborative efforts, synergy and communication amongst MDAs and sectors with nutrition component in their mandate to ensure collective and effective interventions. The summit submitted that there is urgent need for deliberate and more effective implementation of State Action Plans, mainstreaming of oversight of MDAs, and budget performance to check lapses in program implementation and performance, prioritization of local production of RUTF to avoid stock out, amongst others.

Dignitaries at the summit include, member, Board of CISLAC, Adesina Oke; ED of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani; Speaker, Gombe State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Abubakar Sadiq Ibrahim; Speaker, Kano State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Abdulazeez Garba Gafasa; and Comrade Dr. Musa Ali Kachako.

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