Nigeria: Despite Govt Actions, 4,000 Children Died From Malnutrition in Jigawa

Many young children are suffering the effects of malnutrition (file photo).

According to official figures, 3, 944 children under the age of five years died between 2010 and 2020 at public centres for the treatment of acute malnutrition in children.

About 91 per cent of the people of Jigawa are involved in agricultural practices, yet an increasing number of children in the state are suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition.

According to official figures, 3,944 children under the age of five years died between 2010 and 2020 at centres established by the state government across the state for the treatment of acute malnutrition in children. This implies that an average 10 children died from malnutrition daily in the state in the past 10 years.

Medical experts said aside from causing death, the condition also contributes to stunting, low cognitive development and low intelligence quotient (IQ) in children.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how two days after the confirmation of the 'most transmissible' delta variant in Nigeria, cases are now consistently on the rise again in the country.

The data was compiled with figures reported by the 67 Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition Centres (CMAM Centres) created by the state government and located in 15 of the 27 local government areas of the state.

According to the data, the CMAM centres admitted 836,000 children with malnutrition cases in the decade under review, but 39,155 of the children absconded from the centres. This indicates that the fatality figures in the state could be higher as deaths from the condition occurring outside the centres were not reported.

According to the data, more deaths were recorded at the centres in 2015 and 2016 than in any other year within the period, with 628 and 811 fatalities reported respectively.

The data shows that in 2010, there were 92 fatalities, 244 in 2011 and 503 in 2012. In 2013, the centres recorded 558 fatalities, 419 in 2014 and 628 in 2015.

In 2016, the number skyrocketed to 811 deaths but declined in 2017 to 170; 274 in 2018; 164 in 2019 and 76 in 2020.

Within the period, the CMAM centres successfully treated 363,601 cases with ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), according to the official data updated on October 7, 2020.

Children are diagnosed for malnutrition at the centres by measuring the circumference of their mid-upper arms with a tape.

Shuaibu Kafingana is the chairperson of Jigawa Social Protection Platform (JISOP), a coalition of civil society organisations and the media working on malnutrition in the state. He said a demographic health survey in 2015 revealed that 63.4 per cent of children in Jigawa had stunted growth. Although the stunting rate in the state declined to 54 per cent in 2018, it has again risen in subsequent years, Mr Kafingana said.

He urged the government to establish treatment centres in the remaining 12 LGAs of the state so as to bridge the gaps in treating malnutrition in the state.

Mr Kafingana also said, as an agricultural advantageous state, Jigawa should focus on the prevention of malnutrition through a nutrition-sensitive approach, instead of the nutrition-specific approach that targets cure. He said the former approach is cheaper and more effective.

He said JISOP was able to persuade the government to budget N100 million this year as its counterpart funding for the purchase of ready-to-use therapeutic food and another N10 million for nutrition programmes.

But for Musbahu Basirka, who is the chairperson of Jigawa Civil Societies Forum, Jigawa would more effectively tackle child malnutrition and reduce many child-killer illnesses by simply focusing on the implementation of its social protection policy.

"This is because the social protection policy, which has nine domains with child welfare and protection, was designed for individuals and households throughout the life cycle to prevent and reduce poverty and socio-economic shocks by promoting and enhancing livelihoods and a life of dignity," Mr Basirka said.

Mr Basirka stressed that the policy has a life cycle approach from childbirth to death, with each stage having its peculiar risks and social needs.

"The policy also focuses on human development which addresses the problems of malnutrition and illiteracy. However, both the government and the governed always prioritise capital projects that consume a lot at the expense of human capital development," he said.

"Human capital development takes years to make an impact and the best time to start investing is now. There is also a need for attitudinal change for the government and the people to focus on human capital development by investing in child development.

"Jigawa has citizens' participatory budget proposals where residents make inputs on their development needs, which are normally capital projects. But we need to shift to human capital development and focus on child brain development," Mr Basirka said.

Tackling malnutrition in Jigawa

Action Against Hunger, a non-governmental organisation, says between 2013 and 2019, it empowered over 46,000 pregnant women through its Child Development Grant Programme (CDGP) in three local government areas of Jigawa State.

The Programme Manager, Stella Esedunme, said the programme wants to address widespread poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the state, the conditions which he noted affect the potential of children to survive and develop.

Mrs Esedunme said the programme provided an unconditional cash transfer of N3,500 per month to pregnant women. The transfer began during pregnancy and lasted until the child turned two years old, meaning that it covered the first 1,000 days of the child's life.

Also, Mrs Esedunme said aside from the cash transfer to the pregnant women, the programme provided communities with education and advice on nutrition and health. This was to "improve food security and adoption of beneficial practices and behaviors to support better maternal and child health.

"The overall aim of the cash transfer was to improve child nutrition and maternal health. The money was expected to increase the income of beneficiary households and women's control over the use of that income, enabling greater spending on food and investment in household health," Mrs Esedunme said.

Government's efforts

On its part, the Jigawa State Primary Healthcare Development Agency said it has introduced an indigenous innovation informed by science and evidence in tackling the scourge of malnutrition in the state.

The Executive Secretary of the agency, Kabiru Ibrahim, told PREMIUM TIMES that the state introduced the 'Masaki Initiative' as a community-based approach in tackling malnutrition, where rural women are trained on how to identify, measure, and treat a malnourished child.

"The state government packaged a community-based approach, the 'Masaki initiative', as an empowerment for rural women to identify malnourished children, to classify and address malnutrition to prepare appropriate delicacies and recipes to address malnutrition within their limitations.

"The Masaki intervention, started about a year and half ago, made a significant impact in a community in Guri Local Government Area on over 60 children in different stages of malnutrition. Six weeks after implementation of the Masaki Agenda, the women have converted the children and none of them is affected by malnutrition.

"There are 300 sites in Jigawa where the Masaki Initiative is taking place. The state and local governments and development partners are supporting the Masaki programme, hoping in the coming years the issues of stunting, severe acute malnutrition will be of the past in the state," the official policy of the programme said.

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