We’re not leaving North East – UNICEF

…As new arrivals worsen child malnutrition situation

By Hassan Zaggi

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has dispelled the rumour making the rounds that it has concluded plans to leave the North East due to the uncooperative disposition of northern leaders.

Manager, Nutrition, Maiduguri Field Office of the UNICEF, Sanjax Das, dispelled the rumour in an exclusive interview with The AUTHORITY in Maiduguri.

It would be recalled that since the past few months, some stakeholders in the health sector have been raising the alarm that UNICEF is about to abandon the fight against child malnutrition in the north eastern states due to failure by the state governments to pay counterpart funding.

The stakeholders expressed concern that if UNICEF eventually leaves the north east, the already worst child malnutrition situation in the region will become uncontrollable which will lead to further complications and deaths of many children.

Mr Das who admitted that child malnutrition situation is gradually improving, however, warned that it is still an emergency in the north eastern states.

He, however, stressed that UNICEF has no intention to suspend its programme in the north east.

According to him: “We are working with the state governments concerning the emergency of the malnutrition situation and its importance to the socio-economic development of the region.

“UNICEF in collaboration with the partners is working closely with the states to release more funding to this complex problem of malnutrition.

“But currently, we don’t have any plan to close our programme. We are here to support the governments and we are working together with them,” the UNICEF Chief said.

On the issue of counterpart funding by the north  eastern state governments, Mr Das explained that, “yes, that is what we are advocating with the governments. It is time for them to release the funds. So we are in the discussion process with the state governments.

“We have not gotten any positive response now, but we are communicating with them.”

However, speaking at a recent media forum organised by the Association of Nigeria Health Journalists (ANHEJ), the Executive Director, International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH) Chief Moji Makanjuola, lamented the high rate of child malnutrition in the country.

She called on state governments to pay their counterpart funding to enable UNICEF and other agencies procure Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF)  for the treatment of acute malnourished children.

“As a country, we are not at war, but we have Nigeria presenting children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). I begin to wonder if we are in a war, maybe we will be picking our children death from the street,” she lamented.

While blaming the state governments for not taking child malnutrition seriously, she said: “The issue here is that a lot of the state governments don’t pay counterpart funding because the medication (RUTF) that the severely malnourished children need is not produced in Nigeria.”

New arrivals worsen child malnutrition situation

Meanwhile, a Nutrition Officer at UNICEF Borno  office, Aminu Usman,  has lamented that the influx of Internally Displaced Persons (new arrivals) may also further exacerbate the already poor nutrition situation in the north east.

He made this known at the UK Department for International Development’s (DfID) funded media dialogue in Maiduguri, recently.

DfID is currently executing one of its projects in the north christened- Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN).

From April 2019-March 2020, DfID is expected to spend a whooping 5 million in an effort to improve maternal and young child nutrition in Northern Nigeria.

While calling on governments at all levels to act fast in order to prevent the escalation of the already worst situation, Usman said: “The affected community coping mechanisms is still low, and any shock will result in further deterioration of nutrition status and so, it is important to have a robust contingency plan.”

He disclosed that in 2019, an estimated 440,000 boys and girls under the age of 5 in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states will suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).

He further revealed that the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) among boys and girls aged below 5 years is 11% in Borno, 13% in Yobe and 6% Adamawa.

Usman, however, lamented that the inaccessibility to some areas due to insecurity has made the “situation even worse in Rann (Kala Balge), south Yobe, Magumeri, Jere and Konduga LGAs.

“The poor nutrition situation is further exacerbated by poor food security situation, sub-optimal water, hygiene and sanitation practices and high disease burden.”

Usman revealed that an estimated 258,950 boys and girls will suffer from SAM in  year 2020 in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.

Five 5 billion naira, he said, is needed to necessitate the procurement of 258,950 cartons of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for SAM treatment.

According to him: “Funding has been secured for 29,314 cartons of RUTF, there is a funding gap of 4.4 billion naira for the procurement of 229,636 cartons of RUTF.”

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