By Taiwo Adeniyi
Workshops tend to be scary. They often deliver unpleasant report with cold detachment. 1.5 Million children in SouthWest Nigeria, cursed with stunted growth! Scary figures, gathered, processed and submitted, stripped bare of all human sentiments, they represent a gnawing behemoth that stunting in children has become in Southwestern states of Nigeria and Edo state.
While Oyo state leads the pack with 392,827 absolute number with 24.4%, Ogun trails with an absolute figure of 277,462 and 26.1%. Osun, with 227,192 victims has 23.5% while Lagos has 11.4% with 290, 169 stunted children.
Hard, cold and unfeeling numbers, heaping a 19.4 % burden of the 17 million national figure of stunted children on a region once touted as the benchmark of positive index in d country, they underscore how a mix of factors, failures more like, have played the ironic card, making nutrition that should sustain human existence, the albatross, robbing innocent lives of meaning.
Stunting is accustomed to receiving a passing attention as a physical deficiency in children, explaining a deficit in height relative to the age of the child. Thus, it attracts little concern among ignorant members of the society and a government configured with a penchant for misplaced priorities.
While the society slumbers and snores, ignoring a broader view of stunting in children as an irreversible failure of a child to, in the first 1000 days of life, achieve his genetic potentials for height, with a consequent reduction in his cognitive, physical and productive capacity, the combination of chronic undernutrition, adolescent pregnancy, poor hygiene, maternal nutritional and health status, as well as breach in recommended breastfeeding practices have combined to threaten Nigeria’s future with the high prevalence ratio of stunted children, put at 17 million out of estimated 40 million under the age of 5.
Addressing a two-day media dialogue on stunting in children in Southwest Nigeria, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Akure office, Ada Ezeogu described stunting in children as a silent emergency, which has a potential to perpetuate a cycle of poverty if not promptly addressed. According to her, stunting often begins from the pregnancy stage when the foetus may have to contend for required nutrients with similar demand by the pregnant mother.
Aside the first 1000 days of life of a baby – representing the time from conception to two years- which she described as the only time that intervention could prevent stunting, adequate diet between age 0-5 is also very crucial.
This position aligns with that of Dr James Oloyede, a leading nutritionist with the Osun state government, who submitted with hard fact that despite the many achievements of the much- hyped state’s school feeding programme, the rate of stunting in children only spiked in the state, especially in the last five years.
With an absolute figure of 227, 192 victims, Osun state currently bears a 23.5% burden of stunted children in the Southwest, while under age 5 mortality rate rose from 56 in 2011 to 101 in 2016.
These he blamed on structural deficiency in the school feeding programme, while calling for a budget line for nutrition, department of budget services and conditional transfer to caregivers with severe acute malnourished children.
As a major contributor to life expectancy, nutrition no doubt deserves notches, much more higher than what the society accords it at present. And it starts from the very beginning when the pulse of life in the embryo is at its faintest. Not a moment later.
While emphasis has erroneously been on the quantity of food, it now must change to adequate diet or adequate nutrition, where necessary classes of food in right measure find their way to our menu and dishes.
For far too long, we have borne the scourge of malnutrition, it’s ugly and scary welt marring the beauty of a generation so innocent.
Perhaps these figures will jolt enough to force a halt.