Vanguard (Lagos)

5 January 2013

Nigeria: The Move to Save One Million Children

His head is bigger than his body. Apart from his big head, almost all the bones are sticking out of his flesh. Baby Buba Shehu is not as healthy as every other child you see around . He is suffering from growth retardation. At age 2, he looks like a nine months old baby.

He cries all the time and his situation gives serious concern to his mother, Hasfat Shehu, a mother of seven. What is making Hafsat's life very stressful is that she has to cater for a two months old baby coupled with Buba's condition. This case of malnutrition in Buba represents what hundreds of children under the age of 5 are suffering from in Nigeria.

The United Nations Children Trust Fund (UNICEF), in a move to address the problem acute food and nutrition crisis, partnered with journalists to discuss UNICEF's interventions to save children under the ages of five from acute malnutrition in eight Sahelian countries, including Nigeria.

Tagged, "Food and nutrition crisis, a call for collective action, " heId in Kano, it was revealed how hundreds of chiIdren in the affected countries are suffering from acute malnutrition. The eighth countries affected by food and nutrition crisis are Chad, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Northern Senegal, Northern Cameroon, and Northern Nigeria.

A food and nutrition specialist, Mr. Niyi Oyedokun, while presenting a paper during the meeting, pointed out that, in 2011, several early warning systems indicated the onset of severe food insecurity and nutritional crisis even as projected figures suggested that over 1 million children will suffer from acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2012 in the eight countries. He defined acute malnutrition as a condition represented by measures of thinness or bilateral edema and said children with severe acute malnutrition are nine times likely to die than children who are not.

According to him, some of the factors for the nutrition crisis in the Sahelian region include scarce rains in 2011 resulting in poor harvests, displacement of people and disruption of food production due to conflicts and violence. "In responding to the nutrition crisis, it is reconmended to use cost effective intervention referred to as Essential Nutrition Action. It is also recommended to focus on the per iod of pregnancy and th rough· the first two years of the child's life. When these interventions are implemented together, they contribute to about 60% reduction in child's mortality", Oyedokun said.

"The six essential proven nutrition interventions include exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding, mo there's nutrition I ir0n, vitamin A I ir0n, nutrition a I care in sick and severe cases and the use of iodized salt". Heexplained that addressing malnutrition is multi-sectoral involving health, agriculture, water sanitation and hygiene, HIV/AIDS, education, child protection, child frfendly budgets and social protection systems, among others.

UNICEF, in addressing acute malnutrition, is using comnunity based management. It involves an outreach for comnunity involvement to ensure early detection and referral of cases.

During the meeting, journalists visited one of the commities in the state where a Carmunity Management of Acute Malnutrit ion site was establ ished in Binchi local government area in Kano state. At the Malikawa Garau Model Health Centre, the Senior Health Carmunity V\brker, Haruna Suleiman, said out of the 35 children admitted for acute malnutrition, 13 had been discharged .He said the Health Centre had 23, volunteers wh0 come every Wednesday t 0 attend to the chiIdren.

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