The persistent negative indices that keep indicating high cases of malnutrition in Nigeria should be of concern to every right thinking Nigerian.
This is because the lives of Nigeria’s future productive generations are being threatened by the scourge of malnutrition which oftentimes degenerates into Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
According to a 2017 UNICEF report, an estimated 2.5 million Nigerian children under the age of five years suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) every year with about an alarming 420,000 children under five dying as a result of the this extremely dangerous condition that makes children nine times more likely to die from common childhood illnesses such as such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria.
With a national prevalence rate of 37% among children below the age of five years, the country has the second highest number of stunted children in the world. Seven percent of children below the age of 5years are wasted and 58% of women of childbearing age are anaemic.
Although statistics have shown that severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is more prevalent in the northern part of the country, especially in the north east, there are pockets of it in every part of the country.
Every available official report in the country shows that child nutrition is a national calamity that needs to be tackled headlong. Reports of increasing rates of malnutrition have been making the rounds nationwide especially in the northeast and experts are worried that if adequate investments are not made in time, the country may end up with a generation of malnourished children that have potential to grow into malnourished adults.
What that means is that malnourished adults are the ones who will constitute the labor force of the country. There is no way malnourished adults can ever be productive. The implication is that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country will be heavily compromised.
Worse still, malnutrition is associated with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity, among others. A World Bank report shows that every year malnutrition claims the lives of three million children aged below 5 globally, with billions of dollars lost to productivity and health care costs.
Perhaps it is in realization of this worrisome reports and the global Covid 19 pandemic, which seemed to overstretch the capacities of the Nigerian health system, that spurred stakeholders into coming together to face the challenges bordering around malnutrition.
Some civil society organizations (CSOs) and the media at both national and state levels saw the need to come together to champion the course of changing the narratives bordering around malnutrition in Nigeria.
At the national level, NGOs like the Aisha Buhari Foundation (ABH), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH) and Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) came together with a primary focus on carrying out advocacy to the federal and state governments of Nigeria on the need to pay more attention to the plight of the vulnerable children ravaged by the scourge of severe malnutrition.
It is gladdening to note that these organizations are currently working in collaboration with other non-governmental organizations at both international, national, state and local government levels implementing various projects that are aimed at preventing and managing cases of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM. They have been engaging the local CSOs and media as an avenue to accelerate health care information, create demand and pursue health rights as human rights.
Bauchi state, being the gateway to the north east, is one of the states that has highest burden of acute malnutrition cases amongst under five children , along side Borno and Yobe states that were ravaged by the activities of insurgents, which is being compounded by COVID-19.
Available records from Bauchi State primary health care development agency based on NNHS 2018 indicate that Stunting prevalence rate stands at 45.6 percent, with severe cases having 16.3 percent and moderate cases standing 29.3 percent. The survey further indicates that under weight prevalence in children stands 28.2 percent, with severe cases standing at 8.2 percent and moderate cases having 20.0 percent
But with the support of partners like CISLAC and ISMPH , who has been working with Bauchi based CSOs and the media, there has been a sustained advocacy campaign targeted at policy makers, state legislature, community leaders and other key stakeholders on the need to pay more attention towards prevention and management of severe acute malnutrition in Bauchi State.
According to the executive director of ASHH Foundation, (one of the earliest Bauchi based CSOs collaborating with CISLAC), Ms Comfort Attah, said for over 8 years, ASHH Foundation in collaboration with CISLAC, has been hammering on the gaps in the prevention and management of SAM in Bauchi State.
“Since 2012, ASHH Foundation, with support from CISLAC and UNICEF had been advocating for the establishment of more CMAM centers in the state, adequate allocation of nutrition budget and timely release of the budgeted funds.
“We also assist in tracking of funds allocated for nutrition in the state. Through such advocacies , there was slight improvement on the establishment of CMAM Centres, from 3 to 9 CMAM centres and 21 OTP sites as well in 2020.
It is worthy to note that prior to the involvement of ISMPH in the campaign against SAM, media engagement with the CSOs was very weak, which oftentimes relegated advocacies of CSOs with little or no publicity to whip up sympathy for such advocacies.
Thus, when ISMPH forayed into some of the northern states with high burden of SAM, they focused on the media as their key partners in projecting issues around SAM.
The involvement of the media according to the senior program manager of ISMPH, Mr Solomon Dogo, was because of the critical role the media play in influencing policy direction of governments in Nigeria .
“Key decision makers have relied on positive media image to sustain the support of the people for their actions. The media strategy for the Nigeria SAM advocacy will be hinged on increasing political support in order to achieve increased domestic resource mobilization for the prevention and management of Severe Acute Malnutrition in Nigeria.
“The objective of the media engagement therefore is to use the media as an advocacy platform to pressure key decision makers to ensure the prevention and treatment of Severe Acute Malnutrition for Nigerian children is prioritized”, Dogo said.
The collaboration between ABF, CISLAC, ISMPH and NHED at the national level has greatly improved synergy between Bauchi based CSOs and the media in carrying out effective and sustained advocacy campaigns on the prevention and management acute malnutrition in the state.
This was corroborated by Ms Attah when she disclosed that , “For the first time CSOs and the Media in Bauchi State, with Support from ISMPH and CISLAC had carried out an effective and well coordinated campaign when nutrition budget was omitted in the 2020 budget. That singular collaborative effort had triggered chains of activities within the state MDAs that culminated in the re-inclusion of nutrition budget back into the 2020 Bauchi State budget.”
The synergy between Bauchi CSOs and the media, that was facilitated by ISMPH and its consortium of partners has added value to the campaign against SAM. Not only do policy makers and implementers pay attention to their advocacy campaigns, even nutrition champions are emerging within them.
For instance, the Bauchi State speaker of the house of assembly Right Honorable Abubakar Y. Sulaiman, has been recognized as one of such champions. He was duly acknowledged by ISMPH as such and was bestowed with the award of Nigerian Nutrition Ambassador for his commitment in the crusade against SAM. This, he clearly demonstrated recently at state nutrition committee meeting when he mentioned that the state legislature under his leadership will explore all avenues to see that CMAM sites are increased to 40 from the current 21, which he described as inadequate. He also commended CSOs and the media at both the state and national level for championing the course of the vulnerable children afflicted with SAM.
“Your sustained advocacy and engagements with stakeholders has opened the eyes of so many of us on the plight of those vulnerable children that are the future of the country. You people single handedly took me and some members to one of the CMAM sites and there, we came face to face with children suffering from SAM, it was a heart wrenching experience.
“Inline with our oversight functions, we are going to do everything possible to see improvement in the prevention and management of SAM scourge in Bauchi State ”, said the speaker.
To buttress the importance of synergy among stakeholders in halting the menace of SAM in Nigeria, the Aisha Buhari Foundation in collaboration with its consortium of partners, recently convened a summit to chart a way forward in tackling the scourge of SAM in Nigeria.
In her address during the summit ,the First Lady was quoted as saying:
“We understand that the government alone cannot handle this situation, which is why the Aisha Buhari Foundation (in collaboration with Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED), CISLAC, and International Society for Media in Public Health (ISMPH) as part of the consortium for treatment and prevention of Severe Acute Malnutrition, has continually reached out to government, private sector and other stakeholders to invest in nutrition. It is however important that, we can only make the effort count by creating structured, progressive, accountable and sustainable mechanisms to optimize resources available for improving nutrition especially for the helpless child. This, I believe will improve our budgetary allocation and private sector investments in nutrition.”
In Bauchi state, the collaboration between the CSOs and the media has been productive, where the state government has been kept on its toes with regards to procurement of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food, used in the treatment of SAM.
Mrs Monica Tanko of Rahama Women Development (a Bauchi based NGO) said working with the media had consolidated the efforts of CSOs through amplifying nutrition advocacy for wider reach.
“Our advocacy and awareness campaigns are tilted towards ensuring adequate budgetary provision, timely releases and monitoring distribution of RUTF to intended targets, the Media are always there to report any anomalies observed with a view to correcting them. Their reports tends to get to a wider reach in bringing the attention of government and other stakeholders to the challenges and gaps noticed in the prevention and management of SAM in Bauchi State.
“I personally listened to a live transmission of media engagement with the state governor, where one of our media team members brought the attention of the governor to an impending stock out of RUTF in the state. There and then the Governor gave instructions to release monies to Unicef, as contribution for the procurement of RUTF”, Tanko said.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic, eventual lockdown and its general effect on the global economy have adversely affected the quest to promote better nutrition and have overstretched health care financing, it is heartwarming to note that due to the sustained advocacy and awareness campaigns being carried out by the media team and CSOs on the state of affairs in respect to Nutrition in Bauchi State, not only did the state not tamper with nutrition budget in it’s revised 2020 Covid 19 responsive budget, but there was actually an increase in the amount appropriated for Nutrition.
Sharing her experience on the partnership between the CSOs and the Media, a broadcaster on the health desk at the Bauchi State Television Ms Elizabeth Karh, said the collaboration is yielding a positive result in the campaign against SAM.
“The collaboration has greatly reduced duplication of efforts because such campaigns are being carried collectively through synergy between the Media and the CSOs.
“It also makes Government and other key stakeholders pay attention and take action after such campaigns. A case in point was the recent stock out of RUTF which was reported by the team and also the outcry of both the Media and the CSOs on the exclusion of Nutrition budget in the state. The massive advocacy carried out that time made the state government to reverse the action by including it back into 2020 budget”, Karh said.
The ace broadcaster also disclosed that aside carrying out routine monitoring of CMAM sites to ascertain the level of distribution of RUTF, the coalition is now also focusing on advocating for innovative financing of Nutrition activities and creating more awareness on the need for care givers to start looking at local alternative source of nutritional food for their children, to complement government’s efforts in the supply of RUTF that is epileptic.
Another positive impact that came out of the synergy was the emergence of a passionate group of journalists whose area of focus is now tilted towards SAM issues and other public health concerns. These group of journalists have become so proficient in reporting public health issues at the grassroots that other projects in the state are now courting them to be their media partners in projecting their interventions.
It can rightly be said that the scouting of this group of media practitioners by ISMPH and building their capacity in reporting issues around Malnutrition, with particular emphasis on acute malnutrition has brought about an engaging reportage that has added value to changing the narratives in the prevention and management of severe acute malnutrition in Bauchi State.