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Gombe, where over 8% of children experience severe malnutrition

Ever since UNICEF found out that more than eight percent of children in Gombe State are severely malnourished, it has given it a priority place to inaugurate its Community Management of Acute Malnutrition programme.

UNICEF also notes that more than 30 per cent of newborns are exclusively breastfed, while only 22 per cent of children aged between six and 23 months old in Gombe State receive a minimum acceptable diet; and not more than eight per cent of them receive minimum dietary diversity.

In the light of these observations, UNICEF inaugurated the Food and Nutrition Policy in Gombe State to guide it to address the hindrances to food and nutrition security from individual, household, community and local governments.

If there is anything cardinal to most of the operations of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), especially in rural areas, it is its focus on enlightenment campaign and other humanitarian activities on prevention of key ailments affecting the wellness of newborns and children.

only 22% of children aged between 6 and 23 months in Gombe State receive a minimum acceptable diet; and not more than 8% of them receive minimum dietary diversity

UNICEF’s works in the world’s toughest places to reach the most disadvantaged children and adolescents and to protect the rights of every child everywhere will validate its relevance to useful humanitarian gestures, observers note.

Some approaches to tackling malnutrition by UNICEF is the introduction of Nutrition programme in its package to fast-track efforts at preventing malnutrition introduced in Gombe and its environs, Mrs. Philomena Irene, Nutrition Specialist and UNICEF Field officer, explains.

According to her, children, especially in the north eastern part of Nigeria, are living in chronic food poverty, with one child in four children not meeting the minimum dietary requirements.

“Other areas of need such as water, sanitation and hygiene, agriculture, education, social protection programmes, are parts of the package to eliminate malnutrition among children.

“While we promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, we also encourage mothers to add complementary foods thereafter, from six months to two years”, she explains further.

She explains further that apart from this initiative, UNICEF has been promoting the cultivation and eating of different local food items that are nutritious, such as the orange-flesh sweet potatoes that grow well in Gombe State and its environs.

MANY children in north east Nigeria live in chronic food poverty, with one child in four children not meeting the minimum dietary requirements

The fund has always insisted that ways to prevent malnutrition include eating a healthy and balanced diet from the main food groups, including varieties of fruit and vegetables and starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, among other foods, according to her.

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Irene also notes: “We have mothers here that have the orange-fleshed sweet potato vines at their backyard grown with other vegetables such as okra, spinach, cabbage, and tomatoes so that children can feed on variety of foods that are nutrients-dense and palatable in taste to prevent malnutrition’’.

She says UNICEF has been engaging people to prepare nutrition recipes along with women for demonstration purposes, with the participants replicating same in their homes.

“UNICEF has trained nursing mothers on complementary feeding projects in Gombe State, aimed at reducing malnutrition among infants and improving child survival,’’ she restates.

ways to prevent malnutrition include eating a healthy and balanced diet from the main food groups

She explains further that the first two years of a child’s life are crucial in their lives, saying that providing proper nutrition during that period could reduce the rates of mortality among children.

Some concerned residents of Gombe State recalls that some years ago, UNICEF provided a larger percentage of some programmes’ costs via capacity building and supply of ready-to-use therapeutic food. The arrangement was that the state and local governments would contribute the remaining percentage of the cost for provision of structures, manpower and supply of essential drugs, they observe.

Although the programmes would last two years when the state government would be expected to take over the funding and expand the programme, managing some components of the programmes had generated criticisms.

Cynic’s view of UNICEF services, particularly as it concerns the state government approach to children’s welfare and malnutrition notwithstanding, concerned stakeholders hold a strong belief that the fund has helped in preventing all forms of malnutrition by improving children’s access to nutritious, safe, affordable and sustainable diets.

the first two years of a child’s life are crucial, and providing proper nutrition during that period could reduce mortality rates

Irrespective of the critics’ opinions, UNICEF warns that although numerous factors can lead to malnutrition, the immediate causes, especially among children, are inadequate diet and disease.

The fund insists that poverty among the poor strata of the society has tremendously made it difficult to prevent malnutrition and it has provided strategic approaches to deal with the development.

Sharing similar view, Dr. Abubakar Joshua of the Department of Community Medicine and Public Health, Gombe State University, admits that UNICEF’s focus on prevention rather than cure is apt.

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“Fortification and diversification of food for the purpose of bringing different varieties to supplement the deficiency that children may experience are good. People have food at home but do not know the right combination to give their children for healthy growth.

although numerous factors can lead to malnutrition, the immediate causes, especially among children, are inadequate diet and disease

“If a child becomes malnourished, he is at risk of developing many complications such as cataract, which will eventually make him blind. If your child becomes blind, you have killed his dream, he will not forgive you for the rest of his life,’’ he warns.

Commending UNICEF’s intervention, Mrs. Samir’s Yakubu, a mother-of-11 in Kolorgu Primary Health Care Centre in Kaltungo Local Government Area, notes that she exclusively breastfed her babies for six months and subsequently followed it up with the UNUCEF’s recommended complementary feeding.

“I was taught how to prepare nutritious food for my babies, using available local food items in my community like beans, pumpkin, soya beans and orange-flesh sweet potatoes introduced to us by UNICEF.

“The new development has impacted positively on the lives of my babies; as you can see the stark contrast in health between my exclusively breastfed daughter and her non-breastfed sister,’’ she explains.

All in all, health managers note that many children have died as a result of health complications due to malnutrition occasioned by the ignorance of their handlers.

They advise that all hands must to be on deck in the fight against malnutrition to save lives of children by adhering to critical health issues because “prevention is better than cure and a stitch in time saves nine’’.(NANFeatures)

Hajara Leman
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