Home News Nigeria loses 800,000 under-5 children annually; malnutrition still an underlying cause.

Nigeria loses 800,000 under-5 children annually; malnutrition still an underlying cause.

By Alex Chiejina
In Nigeria, about 12.3 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition, out of which 300,000 are at risk of dying. For those that survive, reaching their full potential becomes an uphill struggle. Malnutrition including under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies (Vitamin A deficiency, Iron deficiency, Iodine deficiency disorder and Zinc deficiency) remains a major problem of public health significance in Nigeria, Sundiata Post Investigations show.

The 2015 National Nutrition and Health Survey indicates that 19.4% of children under the age of five in Nigeria is underweight; 32.9% is stunted and 7.2% is wasted. These have far-reaching effects on individuals and impede the economic development of nations.

However, the deficiencies can be effectively tackled through food fortification, defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “the practice of deliberately increasing the content of an essential micronutrient, i.e. vitamins and minerals (including trace elements) in food irrespective of whether the nutrients were originally in the food before processing or not, so as to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and to provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.”

In a bid to reduce the undesirable impact of malnutrition and sustain the food fortification programme in Nigeria, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) in collaboration with National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) hosted a ‘Stakeholders Dialogue on Food Fortification’.

The dialogue with the theme, ‘Sharing our Successes and Challenges: Align on the way forward’ was aimed at reviewing the successes and challenges of food fortification in Nigeria and examining the contextual factors which drive reach, impact and sustainability.

The summit was attended by key players in the sector such as Federal Ministry of Health, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Nigeria Customs Service, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Master Bakers Association of Nigeria, Development Partners and the Industry.

Speaking at the summit, the acting Director General of NAFDAC, Mrs Yetunde Oni, acknowledged the fact that good nutrition is an essential driver for sustainable development. “When people’s nutritional status improves, it helps to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, generates broad-based economic growth and leads to a host of benefits for individuals, families, communities and nations”.

In his keynote address, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, represented by the Director of Food and Drugs Services, Federal Ministry of Health, Mrs Abisola Akinbisehin, noted the fact that “the Federal Ministry of Health is concerned with the formulation and implementation of policies related to health, creating awareness on reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health, ensuring sound nutrition including infant and young child feeding and care and safety of the elderly and adolescents.”

Prof. Adewole acknowledged some of the remarkable success Nigeria had attained in addressing micronutrients deficiency problems with the support of international organisations and development partners such as GAIN, UNICEF and Micronutrient Initiative (MI). He said “this administration is aiming at developing a National Policy on Food Fortification to enable the country have a uniform set of principles/guidelines that would serve as a model for the rational addition of essential vitamins and minerals to food and for effective compliance to mandatory food fortification regulations by the Industry”.

Country Director of GAIN, Dr. Francis Aminu, recognised the fact that food fortification is a cost effective technology that yields huge returns on investments. “We want to build on the experiences, achievements and lessons we have learnt over the years. Also we are catalysing the partnership that will be needed to move food fortification forward. In the past we have been doing it almost all alone. Now we are having more stakeholders and we have to expand the partnership to be able to see how we move food fortification forward”.

Stakeholders at the summit agreed that scaling up the availability and consumption of fortified foods in Nigeria would contribute to the achievement of a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), reduce the incidence of Spina Bifida in unborn children, anaemia among women of reproductive age and enhance cognitive development within the first 1000 days of life.

The roadmap of activities subsequently agreed upon by stakeholders to address the above issues, and accordingly underscored in the draft stakeholders’ statement on food fortification, includes:

The need for better monitoring of fortification efforts, including industry self-regulation, and enforcement of necessary laws and regulations by SON and NAFDAC.

Stakeholders believe that there is the need to create a better enabling environment for fortification, such as working with the Nigerian Custom Service to ensure that micronutrient premixes can be imported without current inappropriate and prohibitive taxes

There is need to provide appropriate and adequate consumer education, awareness, and social marketing, and ensure coverage to base of the pyramid population segments and hard-to-reach groups. Besides this, there is the need to identify new fortifiable food vehicles as current vehicles are excluding a significant proportion of the population.

No doubt, the need to develop and scale up other means of getting micronutrients, for segments of the population that will be systematically and consistently excluded from all fortification efforts is very important.

While identifying and promoting innovative ways of financing fortification activities, there is also the need to design, institutionalise, and implement frameworks for quality data collection that will generate evidence to guide ongoing and future food fortification efforts.

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