Osogbo — A 5-year-old pupil of SDA Government Elementary School, Ede in Osun State, Akeem Faruk, likes the meal of rice and beans. He knows the meal timetable and the food vendor assigned to his class like the palm of hand, and no Jupiter can stop him from going to school the day rice and beans would be served.
Faruk and his classmates and other pupils in the school are very sure that they will eat good food free of charge any day they go to school. The meal is provided by the state government for pupils in elementary schools across the state, under The Osun Elementary School Feeding Programme known as O-MEALS.
A female teacher in the school told Daily Trust that even if a pupil could not come to school for a reason, such pupil would come for his food in the break time. She noted that enrolment in the school has increased because the children are willing to come to school because of the food, and that the pupils in her class were eager to learn when they are fed.
Shockingly, in spite of the investment of the state government on the school feeding in the elementary schools across the state, a report of the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) 2016-2017 showed that the nutritional status of children below the age of five in Osun State has not improved appreciably, and this remains a source of concern for stakeholders.
The 5th Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS5) conducted in 2016 and 2017 by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other key partners and presented by the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr Yemi Kale, indicated an increase in Child Malnutrition in Nigeria.
The Acting Representative for UNICEF in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside lamented that malnutrition among children under the age of five has worsened nationwide with the highest concerns in the northern states. He noted that child wasting (children who are too thin for their age) increased from 24.2% to 31.5%, while child stunting (children who are too short for their age) increased from 34.8% to 43.6%." Pernille said the data for MICS5 was collected between September 2016 and January 2017 from 33,901 households in 2,239 enumeration areas across the 36 States and Federal Capital Territory.
The Director of Community Health Services and Education at the Osun State Primary Health Care Development Board, Mr James Oloyede, told Daily Trust that over 23% of under five children in the state are stunted and 8% wasted. He expressed worry that those children may not fulfil their full potentials in life, and that they are at a greater risk of diet related non communicable diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension in later years. He said there is urgent need to tackle malnutrition in the state.
In an attempt to address the problem of malnutrition in the state, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) collaborated with the state government to develop a 5-year costed multi-sectoral strategic plan of action for nutrition. The process was supervised by a UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Mrs. Ada Ezeogu.
Oloyede explained that the state government was committed to reverse the ugly trend through the integrated multi-sectoral strategic plan of action which will clearly identify priority areas such as nutrition of women of child bearing age, infant and young child feeding.
"Other priority areas include ensuring food security, micro nutrient deficiency control, treatment of severe acute malnutrition, nutrition in education and institutions, poverty reduction and recruitment and deployment of nutritionists to handle nutrition issues in the state. He said the state strategic plan on nutrition clearly outlined activities and assigned roles and responsibilities that would ensure its implementation. We are happy that efforts at improving the practice of Breastfeeding have yielded positive result in the state as the rate of Exclusive Breastfeeding has increased by 35.8% from 40.7% to 55.3% in 2016."
A Public Health and Nutrition Programme Manager in the Osun State Primary Health Care Development Board, Mr Izuchukwu Michael Offiaeli told Daily Trust that an integrated strategic costed nutrition plan of action was being developed for the state, for the period between 2018 and 2023. He disclosed that top officials of ministries and agencies of Osun State Government are working together to produce a document that would detail the commitments in financial investments going into nutrition, and the roles as well as the responsibilities of all the relevant sectors and stakeholders.
The President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Dr Bartholomew Brai, explained that the National Food and Nutrition Policy is a document that provides the framework for addressing the problems of food and nutrition insecurity in Nigeria and hailed Osun State government for its efforts in curtailing malnutrition. Brai said it is a good development that Osun is developing this 5-year costed multi-sectoral strategic plan of action for nutrition in line with the National Food and Nutrition Policy.
A UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Dr Omotola Bamidele while speaking on the benefits of nutrition in children said early nutrition programs can raise adult wages by 5-50%. he also said that nutrition can reduce poverty and he postulated that children who escape stunting are 33 percent more likely to escape poverty as adults.