Taking action to address the root causes of child malnutrition is key to reducing the staggeringly high rate of child malnutrition in northern Nigeria, a group of experts from Federal and State Governments, development partners, civil society and academia announced in Abuja on Thursday.
The experts were concluding a 2-day meeting to discuss the results of research on activities carried out by the Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN) programme in the states of Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Yobe, and Zamfara.
As a result of malnutrition, 58 per cent of children under five in these states suffer from stunting, meaning their physical and mental development have been impaired. An estimated 370,000 children with severe acute malnutrition in these states will require lifesaving treatment this year. Without such treatment, some 70,000 of those children are likely to die.
While treatment for severe malnutrition remains essential and has been the focus of State Governments’ activities, the participants at the WINNN meeting said increased attention should be paid to prevention, which is critical to addressing the problem in the long term. Research presented at the meeting confirmed that many mothers do not understand the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and that even giving water to a baby under six months old can lead to illnesses and malnutrition.
The WINNN group of experts recommended increasing activities to prevent malnutrition such as encouraging women to attend health facilities for antenatal and postnatal care where they can be given guidance on how to best feed their children, especially the most vulnerable children under two years old. Husbands, families and community members, including traditional and religious leaders, all have a role to play, the experts agreed, and should be informed about how best to encourage and support women to breastfeed exclusively and to feed children under two years old appropriately. Communities should be educated about problems associated with harmful traditional feeding practices that can reduce an infant’s growth and development, and messages on good feeding practices should be carried on the radio, the experts agreed.
The experts also recommended that preventing malnutrition should be a matter addressed at a wider level than present, involving coordination with ministries of health; agriculture; women’s affairs and social development; and water resources. They also called for greater training and deployment of health workers.
Applauding the increase in State and Federal Governments’ and partners’ commitment to resolving the problem of child malnutrition over the past several years, as well as the more than US$47.9 million investment by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) in the WINNN programme since its inception in 2011, the participants at the meeting highlighted the need for all stakeholders to invest further.
They called on all levels of government to provide greater leadership, better coordination and increased transparent funding to scale up the lessons learned from the WINNN program, providing sustained action to improve the nutrition, health and future prospects of women, adolescent girls and children in northern Nigeria.
The WINNN program, implemented by the Nigerian Government with support from UNICEF, Save the Children and Action Against Hunger, is funded by DFID and works in 3 LGAs in each of the 5 states.