High stunting rates, UNICEF calls for urgent interventions
By Mary Agidi
As part of efforts to reduce the prevailing rates of stunted children in the Southwest Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, has advised States governments to enact policies and improve interventions for exclusive breastfeeding and maternal nutrition and health.
This advice came as it was discovered that Southwest Nigeria has an estimated 1.5million number of under five stunted children amounting 19.4%.
The UNICEF nutrition specialist in Akure office, Mrs Ada Ezeogu listed the above advice as one of the actions to be needed to reduce stunting during a media dialogue on child nutrition in Southwest Nigeria organized by Ogun State Ministry of Information and Strategy in collaboration with UNICEF held at Are Ona Kakanfo Inn Ibadan.
Ezeogu further enjoined governments to improve the purchasing power of families through increase in the minimum wage and expansion of cash-transfer programmes.
According to her, an estimated 17million children in Nigeria under the age of five have their bodies and minds limited by stunting, hence the need for every state to improve and expand maternal and child health services with well-trained and motivated health workers.
She highlighted lack of policy on adolescent nutrition, short or lack of maternity leave, non-enforcement of the code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and lack of workplace protection and support for nursing mother’s as challenges faced by states to reduce child stunting.
In Ondo state, the UNICEF specialist disclosed that there is an estimated 213,435 number of stunted children amounting 22.4%, adding that stunting is happening to 43.6% of the estimated population of 197million in Nigeria.
She described stunting as a manifestation of the severe, irreversible physical and cognitive damage caused by chronic malnutrition early in a child, adding that stunting is one of the most significant barriers to human development.
The Ogun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Otunba Dayo Adeneye emphasized the need to intensify effort to reduce stunting through proper nutrition, especially now that Nigeria is at a critical stage of malnutrition.
According to him, proper nutrition is germane to human growth, saying a well-nurtured generation will undoubtedly contribute meaningfully to the society, to engender development.
“It is quite alarming to note that a large percentage of the young children in Nigeria is either undernourished or micro-nutrient deficient, while some even suffer from over-nourishment, otherwise called obesity.
” It is equally lamentable to discover that Nigeria’s nutrition status has not improved for the past ten years. We cannot continue to fold our hands and stand aloof with such issues staring us in the face, most especially, when those affected are the vulnerable in society. These are under five, who have no voice and are definitely looking up to us to proffer solutions to their plight”, he said.
Adeneye noted that the Overview of National Nutritional Level indicates that 80% of the world’s stunted children live in 14 countries with Nigeria as the second largest contributor after India, a situation that calls for urgent attention which is the rationale behind the media dialogue in order to create awareness on how to overcome the nutritional challenges.