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20.5m infants hit by malnutrition in Nigeria

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By Usman Oladimeji

Stakeholders need to continuously increase food fortification.

In Nigeria, malnutrition is a perennial issue that disproportionately affects under-five children mostly. This deficiency has afflicted 20.5 million infants in the country as stated by Laoye Jaiyeola, CEO, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG). He mentioned this during a webinar in conjunction with eHealth Africa and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, tagged “Developing an Integrated Food Fortification Compliance Framework to address Micronutrient Deficiencies.” With 1 in 5 children experiencing stunted growth and 20.5 million newborns having a low birth weight, the NESG is deeply concerned about the wide prevalence of malnutrition.

Micronutrient deficiencies, he said, are prevalent in Nigeria and all over Sub-Saharan Africa, whose vulnerability was depicted by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, because of over-farmed, depleted, and nutrient-lacking soils; low nitrogen in most African soils; high soil acidity; infestation of crops by pests and diseases; and the detrimental effects of climate change. Therefore, he emphasized that stakeholders need to continuously increase food fortification to guarantee that people not only eat, but eat healthy in a way that decreases micronutrient deficiencies.

There is a substantial micronutrient deficiency in Nigeria.

David Morgan, Senior Technical Specialist for Quality and Safety at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), made a point during the panel discussion that there is a substantial micronutrient deficiency in Nigeria and that the national food consumption survey reveals that children in Nigeria are carrying an immense load of waste, with vitamin A deficiency and anaemia being more common among them. Morgan cites the cost of fortification, the need to oversee production, and the lack of affordable, trustworthy testing as obstacles to regulators and producers meeting food fortification compliance.

He recommended having dialogues and effective communication as a means to fix the situation. Dr. Adeyemi Opeoluwa, Deputy Director of Scientific Affairs and Head of Business Development at the Institute of Public Analysts of Nigeria, added that reducing poverty will have a positive effect on the country’s microeconomic indices, emphasizing the importance of cooperation and support between the government, the private sector, and institutes to improve on these indices. Dr. Opeoluwa stated that when enforcing policies, it is crucial for policymakers to take into consideration the political and cultural context of Nigeria.

Private sector should conform with govt set fortification requirements.

Dr. Victor Ajieroh, Founding Director of Praisegate Services and Consult claims that with a population of 200 million and with a conservative estimation, 100 million individuals can have access to fortified foods through oil, salt, sugar, and other food cycle. He stressed the need of the private sector ensuring their products conform with government-set fortification requirements so that more people have access to fortified food, which can benefit the wellness of the nation as a whole. He added that food brands should promote shared values, expand into rural areas, and consistently adhere to government regulations by fostering an environment of open dialogue and cooperation on public policy, trade related matters, infrastructure development.

Adding to that, Dr. Ajieroh emphasised the significance of governance, digital, and retail innovation in mitigating issues related to food fortification compliance by using creative procurement techniques to address issues in the supply chain and enhance the ecosystem surrounding food fortification. Represented by Mr. Murtala Muhammed, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Executive Director Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said consuming appropriate kinds of nutritious foods is more important than eating an excessively to combat malnutrition. He further underscored the importance of raising public awareness and fostering collaborations among stakeholders to effectively combat malnutrition.

Oversight by govt entities has resulted in a high level of compliance.

According to Dr. Omolara Okunlola, an expert in food safety, nutrition, and standards development, large-scale manufacturers should be commended for embracing the collaboration and self-regulations inherent in the National Fortification Alliance in order to fortify food on a huge scale. Dr. Okunlola noted that the system of oversight by various government entities has resulted in a high level of compliance on the part of manufacturers. She did, however, stress the significance of nutrition labels and the necessity for increased efforts by food producers to inform people about the benefits of fortified foods.

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