By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
Guidelines on how to reduce the rising incidence of stunting in Nigeria has been provided by UNICEF.
“Enact policies and strengthen interventions to improve maternal nutrition and health, beginning with adolescent girls,” UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Ada Ezeogu, said.
She also urged government in the country to implement interventions for exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, with emphasis on diversity and animal source foods.
“Strengthen community-based interventions, including improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to protect children from diarrhocal diseases, malaria, intestinal worms and environmental causes of infection,” the UNICEF nutrition expert stressed.
Moreover, Ezeogu harped on the need to improve the identification, measurement and understanding of stunting and scale up coverage of stunting prevention activities.
Improved and expanded maternal and child health services as well as improved quality and quantity of food produced by small family farms were also part of her recommendations.
She proffered the solutions while speaking on the topic: “Overcoming Stunting In South West Nigeria” at a 2-day “ Media Dialogue on Child Nutrition.” The event was organized by UNICEF and Ogun State Government at Kakanfo Hotel, Ibadan, Oyo State, recently.
On the occasion, Ezeogu disclosed the enormity of stunting in Nigeria, describing it as a public health concern.
“Stunting,” she said, “is being too short for one’s age,” She stated that the condition condemns the infant either to death or a life shorter than its peers, with poor cognitive capacity, more likelihood of disease and less ability to learn at school and earn as an adult,
“Defined as a height that is more than two standard deviation below the World Health Organisation (WHO) child growth standard median, stunting is a failure to achieve one’s own genetic potential for height,” Ezeugu explained. “It is a manifestation of severe irreversible physical and cognitive damage caused by chronic malnutrition early in a child’s life – often beginning before birth.
According to her, stunting is the result of chronic under-nutrition.
Factors that contribute to stunted growth include maternal nutritional and health status before, during and after pregnancy. Others are: short stature, short birth spacing and adolescent pregnancy, the UNICEF nutritionist said.
Frequent and severe childhood infectious diseases and other conditions that reduce absorption of important nutrients also cause stunting in children, she highlighted.
“Stunting is a life sentence, while ‘wasting’ is a death sentence,” Ezeogu emphasized, noting that some parents unwillingly pass death sentence on their children, nutritionwise.
In medicine, wasting , also known as wasting syndrome, refers to the process by which a debilitating disease causes muscle and fat tissue to ‘waste’ away. Wasting is sometimes referred to as ‘acute malnutrition’ because it is believed that episodes of wasting have a short duration, in contrast to stunting, which is regarded as chronic malnutrition.
In continuation of her exposition, Ezeogu reeled out figures of the extent of stunting in Nigeria. “This,” she narrated, “is happening to 43.6 per cent of the estimated 40 million Nigerian children under the age of five (from an estimated population of 197 million),” she elaborated.
She also disclosed that an estimated 37 million children in Nigeria under the age of five have their bodies and minds limited by stunting.
Having regard to the South West of Nigeria, the UNICEF official related thus: “For the South West which has stunting rate of 19.4 per cent, the estimated number of Under-5 children stunted is 1.5 million.
Warning governments in Nigeria against being reluctant in tackling the menace of stunting in the country, Ezeogu stressed that “childhood stunting is one of the most significant barriers to human development.”