At the end of a policy stakeholder dialogue in Asaba, the Delta State capital, the state government admitted that the absence of nutrition in the diet of its residents demands serious and holistic actions to reverse the situation. Omon-Julius Onabu who covered the event, reports
Delta State Government was handed what could be rightly described as a wake-up call during a day policy dialogue with Delta State Executive Council, State House of Assembly and other stakeholders on the need to step up efforts to fight malnutrition, held at the Government House Asaba. This followed a revelation that state has the highest prevalence of acute malnutrition in children in the South-south geo-political zone of Nigeria, based on statistical evidence from various studies in the country. The theme of the event, which was organised by United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria in collaboration with the Delta State Government, was 'Prioritising Investment in Maternal and Child Nutrition: Key to Sustainable Development in Delta State'.
In reference to recent nutritional and health surveys in his presentation on the imperative of multi-dimensional approach to tackling the serious maternal and child malnutrition in Nigeria and the need to scale-up nutrition, Dr. Chris Isokpunwu of the Federal Ministry of Health noted that 40,000 children in the state suffer from acute malnutrition, that is one in every five children is malnourished. He expressed delight at the governor's presence at the presentation, saying that signaled good prospects for the scaling up of nutrition campaign. He highlighted the importance of the scaling up nutrition programme and its multi-dimensional approach it adopts.
In his presentation, 'Investing in Maternal and Infant and Young Child Nutrition - A Strategic Choice for Sustainable Development', a university don, Dr. B. Omotola, asserted that mortality levels could be dipped through adequate investment on maternal, infant and young child nutrition while substantial improvement in the country's development could also be achieved. "The deliberate role of the state legislature geared towards addressing maternal, infant and young child feeding - a role which the governor assured could be taken as granted - needs no overemphasis," Omotola noted.
Omotola stressed that the numerous benefits of investment in child's nutrition spanned the child's entire lifetime since such investment impacts in real terms on every stage of development of the child. He therefore called on "the government to ensure meaningful or adequate budgetary allocation to necessary areas pinging on children and maternal well-being, including healthcare, education, agriculture and social welfare services. This should be accompanied with proper advocacy and monitoring of the implementation process for effective deliverance," he added.
In his remarks at the opening ceremony, Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, described the statistical figures on malnutrition as indeed worrisome and a call to duty for the state government, expressing his avowed commitment to the fight against malnutrition in the state. He urged the state ministry of health and related departments and agencies to leverage on the background provided by the over 400 health centres and more than 60 general hospitals in the state for effective advocacy on child and maternal nutrition in the state, since inadequate advocacy was also a problem.
Specifically, the governor urged state ministries, including Health, Agriculture, Women Affairs and Community Development, Water Resources and Environment as well as other relevant bodies in the state to work with UNICEF and other stakeholders to reverse the disturbing child nutritional status of the state. Nonetheless, he said that issue of poverty could also be linked to the effects of recession in the country today, saying there was "need for collaboration with the local government councils for effective advocacy aimed at addressing ignorance."
The governor attributed most of the health and social challenges in Nigeria to policy inconsistencies, urging the federal government to adopt proper planning policies that paired economic plan with demographic or population programme. "As a country, we will be planning wrongly if our plan does not go in line with our population, such plans will be problematic," he said, adding, "For us to have healthy families birth spacing is very important; we must keep the number of our families within the range we can adequately cater for. A lot of persons are ignorant of what it takes to bring up a child; and, that is a major problem we need to address. We must improve on our enlightenment programme through effective advocacy on the need for child spacing and reducing the size of the family through deliberate plan."
To the applause of the stakeholders, Okowa affirmed the state government's commitment to addressing the scourge of malnutrition among infants and children in the state. Giving this assurance at a one-day stakeholders meeting with State Executive Council, State House of Assembly and others on Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition organised by the state government in collaboration with UNICEF, even as he identified ignorance on the part of mothers and caregivers among the causes of malnutrition in the state. Most parents lack adequate knowledge on what is required in bringing up children which, according to him, most times were due to their mindset and socio-cultural background.
Nevertheless, while noting that the issue of malnutrition has been an age-long issue owing to lack of political will on the part of government, Okowa pointed out that most states which were doing well in agriculture were still plagued with the malnutrition issue. He stated the need for Ministry of Health and other relevant sectors to priorities their budgeting with respect to resolving malnutrition issues in the state just as he urged them to design appropriate work plan towards the implementation of nutrition programme.
In his welcome address at the event, the state Commissioner for Economic Planning, Dr. Kinsley Emu, held that the fight against malnutrition could be won when stakeholders formulate policies or perhaps, muster the political will aimed at ending the scourge. According to Emu, who was represented by the permanent secretary in the ministry, Mr. Ben Igo, said, "We hope that this dialogue win their (stakeholders) support for increase investment in nutrition through the enunciation of policies and budgeting provisions. It is our hope that this dialogue will prompt stakeholders to join hands with the state government to scale up nutrition intervention in the state."
The Health Commissioner also expressed appreciation to the UNICEF team led by the Chief of Field Office, Mr. Wilboard Nganbi, disclosing that his ministry through the State Primary Health Care and "with support from the State Committee on Food Nutrition set up Breast Feeding Support Groups in eight local government areas." He said "this was presented at the 59th National Council on Health and Delta State was commended," adding, "The agency also rehabilitated several cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition that were picked up during campaigns and delivery of routine Primary Health Care Services. Food demonstration at PHCs has been re-introduced so that mothers get practical teaching on how to make nutritious meals from locally available foods," Azinge, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Dr. Minnie Oseji, said that efforts at scaling up nutrition in the state were already being put in to gear.
Against the foregoing, it could be safely posited that what is most critical and demanding urgent attention is not so much the obviously frightening statistical indices that puts Delta State below par among its peers in the Niger Delta as the seriousness with which Okowa's declaration that this represents a clarion call to action concerning the current nutritional status of the state. Needless to say, the governor's challenge for all the relevant ministries and agencies could be described as a marching order that must be executed. The state ministries of Health, Agriculture, Basic and Secondary Education, Economic Planning, Environment as well as Women Affairs and Social Development have been challenged to liaise with UNICEF and others like civil society groups and the media in the effort to adequately scale-up nutrition in Delta State.
It is simply axiomatic that advocacy through the multi-disciplinary approach remains the surest avenue to the realisation of the objectives of the National Policy on Food and Nutrition in Nigeria. Significantly, the policy underscores the pivotal role of the "mechanisms of governance and institutions" as drivers of the economy where relevant sustainable investment can be guaranteed. The governor surged the appropriate authorities, in conjunction with the various groups on Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN), to use the numerous secondary and primary health institutions in the state - including over 60 hospitals and more than 400 functional health centres across the state - as the veritable platform for conducting the required advocacy to scale up nutrition in Delta State.