Combating Childhood Malnutrition in Nigeria

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According to the UNICEF, more than one million children die annually in Nigeria before their fifth birthday and malnutrition is the underlying cause of over 50 percent of such deaths.  Poor feeding practices, shortfalls in food intake, and micronutrient deficiency have been identified as the direct cause of childhood malnutrition in the country.

In response to the overwhelming burden of childhood malnutrition a National Policy on Food and Nutrition was launched, with the overall goal of improving the nutritional status of all Nigerians. The specific targets include reduction of severe and moderate malnutrition among children under five by 30% by 2010, and reduction of micronutrient deficiencies by 50% by 2010. Unfortunately the set targets were not met.

Recently, the Nigerian Nutrition Network (NNN) met to review efforts at using nutrition to reduce child mortality in Nigeria and the President of Nutrition Society of Nigeria identified lack of community based nutrition education, stressing that nutrition education on consumption patterns and appropriate use of traditional foods in the country should be scaled up.

The Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF, National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other partners have also been involved in leading a national effort to add essential nutrients to commercially produced food products.

Despite all these efforts, the country is still facing many challenges in its efforts at improving the nutrition situation of young children. A critical review is recommended to identify gaps in the National food and Nutrition policy provisions on Infant and Young Child Feeding. Activities to fill in the gaps will require a strategic partnership to harness resources that will ultimately lead to the implementation of combination interventions of food fortification, community nutrition education, building local capacity for production, distribution and quality assurance of nutritious staple foods.

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6 Responses to “Combating Childhood Malnutrition in Nigeria”

  1. bhavmod Says:

    It is not surprizing to see that set targets of 2010 for reducing malnutrtion by 30% and micronutrition deficiency by 50% were not achieve in Nigeria. This is the situation in most resouce poor contries, who are following donor agency programmes with out community involvement. As you have mentioned, there is a gap between National Policy Guidelines and Community feeding practices. Under-Five Mortality in Nigeria: Perception and Attitudes of the Yorubas towards the Existence of “Abiku” study reiterate the need to integrate the people’s beliefs,attitudes and behavioural practices into health promotion programmes (http://www.demographic-research.org/Volumes/Vol11/2/11-2.pdf). Out of eight Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), the fourth MDG aims at reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 compare to what was there in 1990. In order to achieve this, there is urgent need to improve community feeding practicies by finding local solutions, which are acceptable to community with their ownership. Additionally, supply of fortified food for preganant and lactating mothers and under 5 children through Public Distribution System shall be implemented to improve micronutrition deficincies.

  2. hayleyshin Says:

    I do agree that education needs to be implemented to change people’s beliefs, attitudes and behavioral practices; however, from the prior experiences with the launched program, it seems like evaluation and correctly identifying factors that led to unsuccessful implementation may be needed first. In moving forward with the education programs and other activities that can reduce the gap between the policy and the community involvement, understanding key determinants for those gaps is needed to aptly address these challenges. Without understanding the scope and nature of the problems that bring about this gap, budget allocation and program implementation for the upcoming efforts may result in yet another unsuccessful program. Perhaps resources given to communities are not used for the nutrition deficiencies; rather they are used for some other purposes/programs or perhaps, foods that are given to mothers are culturally unacceptable. Finding out specific problems and challenges that resulted in disengagement from the communities may be a start in the next phase of this intervention.

  3. cezekiel Says:

    Building local capacity through educational activities and the facilitation of local food production and distribution are all excellent approaches to combating Nigeria’s under-five malnutrition problem. As the National Policy on Food and Nutrition (referenced in your blog) states, encouraging mothers to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first 6 months is a crucial aspect of effectively improving children’s overall nutritional status. Promotion of optimal birth spacing is an additional method that can help decrease the prevalence of childhood malnutrition by allowing mothers to put more resources into feeding one child at a time during the earliest years of life. Indeed, a birth interval of less than 18 months greatly increases the risk of stunting and underweight in children, as well as the incidence of maternal mortality. For more information on the benefits of birth spacing go to http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/techareas/birthspacing/index.html

  4. catherineallen11 Says:

    The nutrition status in children remains a huge problem in many developing countries. Children are mainly affected because they are in the period of rapid development and are most vulnerable to imbalancesint heir nutrition. The economic impact on the nutrition status cannot be over-emphasized as this directly influences the options available to parents. The advocacy of the policy to improve this nutrition should be jointly promoted with limiting the size of the family so that the available resources will make a difference.

    • Steve Kodish Says:

      I absolutely do not agree with this post by catherineallen. At least I do not agree with the proposed strategy of “limiting the size of the family so that the available resources will make a difference.” First of all, such draconian measures are not parallel with many core cultural values of the communities in question. While I’m a socialist at heart, I cannot support a policy contrary to human rights with the hope of promoting child health, not least because there is no evidence base to support such a strategy. Second of all, the comment by catherineallen is tangential to the point that the original post was trying to make. The original post was in regard to finding the gap related to infant and young child feeding, if I’m not mistaken. IYCF practices are very specific and focus on two behaviors: breastfeeding and the introduction of complementary foods. Both of these behaviors related to food and nutrition security are not impacted significantly by family size, if at all.

  5. Stella Ukaoma Says:

    Multisectoral policies that take holistic approaches that are well-implemented are more likely to reduce this chronic malnutrition in children. The policies should target poverty reduction, food security, education, gender, disease burden, and population. International assistance should not be solely for short-term emergency food aid (which targets the acutely malnourished), and should focus on prevention.

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