Tackling Nutrition Challenges Through Collaborative Initiatives
Thought Leadership

Tackling Nutrition Challenges Through Collaborative Initiatives

3 Mins read

Samuel Gada and Safiya Shuaib Isa [Lead Writers]

Despite its position as one of the largest economies in Africa, Nigeria continues to struggle with the complex issue of malnutrition, with children bearing the highest burden. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nearly 1-in-3 children under five years of age in Nigeria has stunted growth — a condition resulting from prolonged malnutrition that impedes physical and cognitive development.

Although these statistics are alarming, the situation is even more troubling because the solution is already known. Fighting against malnutrition in Nigeria requires collaborative efforts from all sectors in order to save millions of children from severe malnutrition and death and pave the way towards a healthier, more prosperous future.

Fortification of staple foods.
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Some pockets of efforts by the government, non-governmental organisations, and a multitude of initiatives towards alleviating this pervasive issue include:

1. Community-based approaches.

In Kaduna State, Alive & Thrive uses community-based approaches to fight malnutrition. This programme which focuses on improving infant and young child feeding practices, engages communities and empowers them with nutrition education, and support. The organisation also trains local health workers and volunteers to adopt better nutrition practices. The programme’s favourable outcomes lie in its grassroots approach, which ensures that the interventions are culturally acceptable, adequately tailored and sustainable.

Another effective community-based approach is the Community-Based Management for Acute Malnutrition Centres (C-MAM) in Katsina. Scattered across 15 Local Government Areas (LGAs), these centres battle malnutrition in already malnourished children by providing medical attention.

Community-based approaches.
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

2. Fortification of staple foods.

Food fortification has also proven to be an effective tool in addressing micronutrient deficiencies. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) has partnered with local producers of food crops and food items to fortify staple ingredients like wheat flour, salt, and vegetable oil with essential vitamins and minerals. This initiative ensures that even those with limited access to balanced diets receive essential nutrients.

Nutrition
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

The success of Lagos’s salt iodisation programme led by GAIN has resulted in a significant reduction in iodine deficiency disorders, highlighting the impact that food fortification can have on improving public health.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has also been at the forefront of this effort by promoting biofortified crops such as Vitamin A-rich cassava and sweet potatoes. These tuber crops, which are relatively more accessible, are bred to contain higher levels of essential nutrients, thus providing a more nutritious diet to low-income households.

3. Technology for nutrition education.

Through the mNutrition initiative, supported by Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) and implemented with local partners, critical nutrition information reaches even the most remote communities, bridging the gap created by limited access to food and nutrition information.

The initiative provides mobile-based nutrition information to mothers and caregivers through text messages and interactive voice responses and disseminates valuable information about breastfeeding, complementary feeding, and hygiene practices.

4. School feeding programmes

The National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) aimed at feeding primary school pupils was established in 2005. At the time, it was identified as a powerful mechanism to improve child nutrition while enhancing educational outcomes. The programme provided nutritious meals to school children and sourced the meals from local farmers, thus fostering a symbiotic relationship between agriculture and nutrition. Despite reaching millions of children in 30 beneficiary states across Nigeria, the programme has faced some instability and has since been suspended due to inadequate funds.

School feeding program
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

The private sector is stepping up its efforts to combat nutrition-related issues, with Nestlé Nigeria being one such example. Their Nestlé Healthy Kids Programme educates children and adolescents on nutrition, healthy eating habits, and physical activity. However, policy and advocacy remain at the forefront of this fight, with the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement in Nigeria leading the charge in uniting various stakeholders, and the National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition (NSPAN) also outlining comprehensive strategies for tackling malnutrition, such as improving maternal and child health services, enhancing food security, and promoting dietary diversity.

Nutrition
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

More still needs to be done

While the challenge of malnutrition in Nigeria is daunting, the innovative and multifaceted solutions being implemented show that combating malnutrition is possible. However, continued investment and commitment from all sectors of society will be crucial in sustaining these gains and ensuring a healthier future for all Nigerians.

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