According to UNICEF, Nigeria has the second highest number of children suffering from malnutrition and stunted growth in the world. Also, there is a national prevalence rate of 32 percent of children under five. An estimation of over two million children in Nigeria are suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), yet only 2 out of every 10 affected children are currently receiving treatment. A side from children, about 7 percent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition.
States in northern Nigeria are mostly affected by malnutrition; stunting and wasting. The increasing rate of malnutrition is therefore a threat to the significant public health and development of the country. Stunted growth, despite bearing a high risk of death, also leads to poor cognitive development, a declining performance in education, and low productivity in adulthood. All the aforementioned shortcomings of an individual with stunted growth contribute to economic losses estimated to account for about 11 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
57% of children in North-West Nigeria are stunted.
The United Nations Children’s Fund report published in 2021 – Fed to Fail? The Crisis of Children’s Diets in Early Life – ranked Nigeria as the second in the global malnutrition burden with over 17 million undernourished children. The report states that one in three Nigerian children is diminutive, and 1 in 10 children is wasting away. This current of the country is a major setback to the achievement of its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – “Zero Hunger” by 2030.
The 2018 National Demography Health Survey (NDHS), also reported that 37 percent of children aged between 0 to 59 months, in Nigeria, are stunted (short for their age); 7 percent are wasting away (too thin for their height); 22 percent are underweight (too thin for their age); 2 percent are overweight (heavy for their age), with high tendency of cardiovascular disease as they grow older. The survey states that global acute malnutrition in the South-West is lower than 7 percent, over 57 percent are suffering in the North-West, and about 18 percent of these children in the South-West.
Worsening insecurity in Nigeria contributes to malnutrition.
Malnutrition has been recorded to have several causes, some include poverty, ignorance, inadequate food intake, uneven food distribution, inadequate food production, poor sanitation, improper preparation of foods and poor food preservation techniques. More underlying causes of malnutrition are poor maternal health, socioeconomic status, war and conflict, and insecurity. Nigeria has a rapidly growing insecurity challenge, mostly rampant in the north, which has caused many children to be struck with malnutrition due to the loss of properties during attacks which always lead to poverty.
Nevertheless, UNICEF has since 2009 encouraged Nigeria’s community based program for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition. The program has grown significantly since then and has become one of the largest treatment programs supported by UNICEF in the world. They also put in place other measures to prevent malnutrition by supporting the enlightenment and counseling of mothers and caregivers on how to adequately feed their children. It also ensures provision of free micronutrient supplements to children and pregnant women.
UNICEF supports Nigeria’s nutrition programs.
UNICEF’s programme supports the government and encourages the implementation of the National Plan of Action on Food and Nutrition through strengthening health and community systems, also by fully integrating nutrition into all aspects of the Primary Health Care (PHC) system. In addition, there should be a particular focus on Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) interventions and micronutrient supplementation. These nutrition interventions by UNICEF are also in convergence with interventions of other sectors, such as those related to antenatal care, the prevention and control of pneumonia and diarrhea, immunization, deworming, distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and adolescent girls’ and maternal nutrition.