According to recent reports, at least 17 million Nigerian children are malnourished, which is the highest burden of malnutrition in Africa and the second highest in the world. The major underlying causes of malnutrition in Nigeria include poor infant and young child feeding practices, poor access to safe and nutritious diets, inadequate access to healthcare, water, and sanitation, and a high level of poverty.
The Federal Government of Nigeria has made efforts in collaboration with development partners to reduce the burden of malnutrition, including the use of small quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements (SQ-LNS) and micronutrient powder (MNP) for home fortification of complementary foods. However, there is limited published implementation research in-country on home fortification.
Nutrition International Nigeria has recommended Integrated Community Outreach Clinics have potential, capacity, and acceptability to distribute MNP and other nutrition commodities, and improved engagement with other stakeholders such as community gatekeepers and household heads can increase acceptability and utilization of MNP in households.
The global burden of childhood malnutrition has been a continuing concern for decades, with progress being far from optimal. Unfortunately, Nigeria has the highest burden of malnutrition in Africa and the second-highest in the world. At least 17 million Nigerian children are malnourished, which sets the country off-track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – “Zero Hunger” by 2030. In this post, we will discuss the underlying causes of malnutrition in Nigeria, the efforts made by the government and development partners to reduce its burden, and the role of home fortification using small quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements (SQ-LNS) and micronutrient powder (MNP) in preventing malnutrition.
Underlying Causes of Malnutrition in Nigeria: Malnutrition in Nigeria is caused by various factors, including poor infant and young child feeding practices, poor access to and consumption of safe nutritious diets rich in both macro and micro-nutrients, inadequate access to healthcare, water, and sanitation, and a high level of poverty. The lack of knowledge about appropriate feeding practices, combined with poverty and inadequate access to healthcare, results in the consumption of inadequate diets and the inability to provide essential nutrients required for healthy growth and development.
Efforts to Reduce the Burden of Malnutrition in Nigeria: The federal government of Nigeria, in collaboration with development partners, has made concerted efforts to reduce the burden of malnutrition in the country. One of the cost-effective and sustainable strategies being implemented by the government is home fortification using small quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements (SQ-LNS) and micronutrient powder (MNP). The provision of micronutrients is ranked as one of the most cost-effective interventions for the prevention of malnutrition.
Home Fortification using SQ-LNS and MNP: Home fortification using SQ-LNS and MNP is a cost-effective and sustainable strategy being implemented by the government to prevent malnutrition in the country. SQ-LNS contains multiple micronutrients embedded in a food base that also provides essential fatty acids and small amounts of energy and protein, targeted toward preventing malnutrition in vulnerable populations. The use of MNP for point-of-use fortification of foods has been suggested as an alternative to mitigate or overcome the constraints associated with supplementation and mass fortification.
Implementation Research using SQ-LNS and MNP: The implementation research using SQ-LNS and MNP administered to eligible target populations in the Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria, has been ongoing to evaluate the efficacy and effectiveness of home fortification in preventing malnutrition. The director of Health and Nutrition at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Binyerem Ukaire, stated that the findings from this research would provide evidence to scale up the best and most effective approaches to intervention programs for the vulnerable groups in the country. The results of the study showed that the implementation fidelity of the project was high, with appropriate targeting of poor households with under-five children as beneficiaries and appropriateness of the intervention context.
Recommendations for Effective Implementation: Dr. Osita Okonkwo, the country director of Nutrition International Nigeria, recommended that Integrated Community Outreach Clinics have demonstrable potential, capacity, and acceptability to distribute MNP and other nutrition commodities. However, supervision and logistic supply need to be strengthened to ensure the teams deliver the commodity according to plan. He also emphasized the importance of improved engagement with other stakeholders such as community gatekeepers and leaders to ensure the successful implementation of home fortification programs.
In addition, there is a need for increased advocacy and awareness campaigns to educate caregivers and communities on appropriate infant and young child feeding practices, the importance of diversified diets, and the benefits of home fortification. This will help to improve the uptake of the intervention and promote behavior change.
Efforts to Tackle Malnutrition in Nigeria
The Nigerian government, in collaboration with development partners, has made concerted efforts to reduce the burden of malnutrition in the country. This section will examine the efforts being made to tackle malnutrition in Nigeria.
National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition: The Nigerian government has developed a National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition to guide nutrition interventions and programs in the country. The plan focuses on improving infant and young child feeding practices, promoting the consumption of safe and nutritious diets, and improving access to healthcare, water, and sanitation.
Scaling up Nutrition Movement: Nigeria is a member of the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, a global movement that aims to reduce malnutrition in all its forms. Through this movement, the Nigerian government is working with development partners to implement evidence-based interventions to reduce malnutrition.
Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition: The Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program is an evidence-based approach to treating severe acute malnutrition in children. The Nigerian government, in collaboration with development partners, has scaled up the CMAM program to reach more children in need of treatment.
Agricultural Interventions: Agricultural interventions, such as improving food production and distribution, have been implemented to improve access to safe and nutritious diets. These interventions aim to increase food availability and affordability, especially for low-income households.
Behavior Change Communication: Behavior change communication is an essential component of nutrition interventions in Nigeria. It involves the use of communication strategies to promote healthy behaviors, such as appropriate infant and young child feeding practices. The Nigerian government and development partners have implemented behavior change communication programs to increase knowledge and awareness of appropriate feeding practices.
Conclusion: Malnutrition remains a significant public health concern in Nigeria, affecting the growth and development of children and the country’s socio-economic development. Addressing malnutrition in Nigeria requires a multifaceted approach that includes improving infant and young child feeding practices, increasing access to safe and nutritious diets, improving access to healthcare, water, and sanitation, and reducing poverty. The Nigerian government and development partners have made concerted efforts to tackle malnutrition, but there is still a long way to go to reduce the burden of malnutrition in Nigeria.
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