ODAHIEKWU OGUNDE, Yenagoa
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has posited that no fewer than 20 million under-five children in Nigeria are suffering from acute malnutrition resulting in stunted growth.
The Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF, Nemat Hajeebhoy, made this known during the Bayelsa State Policy Dialogue and Engagement of State Executives and Legislative Councils on Investment in Nutrition, held in Yenagoa, the state capital.
Hajeebhoy said that in Bayelsa State, for instance, about 125,000 children were stunted and 200,000 were anaemic.
The UNICEF official stated: “Nigeria has about 210 million people and 40 million are children under the age of five. About 20 million half the children are malnourished; they’re either small for their age, may be thin for their height, or they may have high deficiency anemia.
“So, imagine in the country, half the children are not growing well, we can say we are not prospering. Because of this number, statistics put it that Nigeria is the number one country in Africa with the highest number of malnourished children and the number two country in the world with the highest number of malnourished children.
“In Bayelsa State we have 500,000 children, 125,000 are stunted and 200,000 are anaemic. Bayelsa is among top five states with a high burden of stunting in Southern Nigeria.”
He said as part of the plans to change the narrative, UNICEF’s vision and goal was to invest in material, infant, child and adolescent nutrition for sustainable development.
Speaking on the occasion, Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, said malnutrition affects the well-being of the people.
He noted that the state government had prioritised health interventions and was more than willing to assist interventions focused on reducing malnutrition in the state.
Dirk, represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Konbowei Benson, said the government supposed to have money to tackle malnutrition but the the state government often got minimal allocation from the Federal Government.
He stated: “We supposed to have the money and resources to tackle malnutrition, but we often get minimal allocations from the federal government, which leaves us to juggle with little proceeds and makes it hard to fight the things we ought to.
“But UNICEF has always been around and helpful to Bayelsa. So, we have promised that better actions will be taken to achieve good nutrition in the state with the provision of more resources.”
Also speaking, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Pabara Newton Igwele, said the state was more than ready to support policy actions taken to protect nutritionally-vulnerable groups in the state.
He said the government was poised to uplift the nutritional status of maternal, infants and children in the state.
He promised that the ministry would include nutritional activities in the budget, stressing that it was collaborating with academia, policymakers and others to achieve sustainable nutrition in the state.
On her part, wife of Governor, Dr Gloria Diri, said through her foundation, she has taken up the gauntlet to improve the health of women and children in Bayelsa State.
She said: “What is happening today UNICEF did not make a mistake by picking me as a resource person.
Several outreaches have been organized where we distribute food items monthly to women, widows and elderly in communities in the local government areas.
“The Gloria Diri Foundation promotes healthy living in line with the sustainable development goals.
Bayelsa State is endowed with natural resources of seafood such as crayfish, periwinkles and others which have in abundance nutrients such as B complex, vitamins, vitamin D and vitamin A.
“So, we are not expecting that the statistics of malnourishment to be true, but unfortunately it is true. This is so because having gotten all of this food nutrients here in Yenagoa, we were thinking that our parents, our brothers and sisters in the villages are eating well, but unfortunately the statistics has gone to prove us wrong and so there’s a call for active duty and participation in really fighting this poverty that is leading to malnutrition in our communities and in the state.”