Malnutrition killing our kids before our very eyes – Nasarawa mothers cry out
Rabiatu Jubril wipes her tears away as she stares hard at her daughter, blinking a few times so her vision could clear. Her daughter, a painfully thin little girl with huge eyes and emaciated limbs and body, stares back dully from a face etched with meekness and helplessness.
She suffers from acute malnutrition, one of many children hospitalised in the state for being malnourished. Some did not survive.
This knowledge bothers Jubril as she says some silent prayers to God, urging Him to save her dear child.
Recently, many infants and children in Nasarawa State have been suffering from malnutrition, which experts have blamed on lack of balanced diet or a baby’s failure to be well fed from the womb to about five years of age.
Jubril, a resident of Tudun Kwandara in Lafia North Local Government Area of the state, says her baby’s system broke down and that she fears for her life. The little food she gets to eat is lost as watery stool and vomit.
“It all started about some weeks ago when she started vomiting and having bowel movements more than is regular for her.
“Soon, she became very thin and weak. It has been a tough period for my family and we are very poor. I’m really begging God to spare my child’s life because things are really difficult for my family already. It is painful to see your child dying before your eyes malnutrition is killing children everyday here,” she said at Modern Primary Health Care Centre, Tdun Kauri, where she had brought her child.
Tenderly, Mrs Maryam Yusuf, a resident of Wakwa Baba area of the state, lifts her niece up into a sitting position so that she can feed.
Feeling completely lost, Yusuf is also at Modern Primary Health Care Centre, Tdun Kauri, where she has hope that her late sister’s daughter will get treatment for her ‘strange’ ailment. The baby had stopped accepting food and soon, she became frail and sickly. Yusuf had taken few days off from her farm work to watch over her ailing niece. She holds on to one of her niece’s fragile hands, observing it closely as if willing it to grow bigger.
Although her niece still looks thin, Yusuf can already see changes, a development she attributes to the therapeutic food supplements being given to malnourished babies at the centre.
“Before now, she was not eating anything but that has improved now. I’m surprised that she is able to eat what she is being given now because it was really bad before. Her tummy was badly swollen and we were told that she was suffering from acute malnutrition.
“Her mother is dead and I’m the one looking after her. I lost her mother; I don’t want to lose her too. I promised her mother that I would take care of her so I pray to Allah that nothing should happen to her. I’m glad her condition has improved from what it was before I brought her to the clinic,” Yusuf said, while still staring blankly at her niece.
Mrs Amina Shehu furrows her eyebrows in confusion, wondering how one of twin babies could be malnourished while the other is not. One of them indeed looks thin and malnourished while the other looks bigger.
According to her, the cause of the problem is unknown as she always breastfeeds her babies.
“I have been asking myself how one could be malnourished out of the two children and I have been able to come up with an answer. It could be as a result of the differences in their body systems. It is so painful to see a helpless child suffering like this; I don’t want my child to die. I can’t sleep at night,” she says.
The state government has put in place a food programme to tackle hunger and malnutrition in the state, but according to Shehu, it needs to do more to improve on the programme. “Government should come to our rescue. It is not good for any mother to see their children go through what these children are going through everyday.” In her view, such a programme would go a long way to reduce constant acute malnutrition across the state.
Mrs Halima Isa, a resident of Kilema area of Lafia Local Government Area, blames her children’ malnutrition on her failure to lactate well, saying the problem started while they were infants.
“I don’t produce milk well enough and this has affected my children. It kept bothering me and then someone told me to come to the food programme,” she says.
Mrs Hadiza Mohammed’s son is also acutely malnourished but instead of getting medical attention for him, she relied on traditional medication for so long. But rather than get better, her son’s health condition further deteriorated.
“His condition deteriorated for so long but it is getting better now at the clinic where the children are given food. She was dying and I didn’t know what to do about it until someone told me about the nutrition programme,” she says.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that about eight children in Nasarawa South Senatorial District of the state had lost their lives due to severe malnutrition.
According to the World Health Organisation, malnutrition, in all its forms, includes undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight), inadequate vitamins or minerals, overweight, obesity, and resulting diet-related non-communicable diseases.
Zonal Monitor, UNICEF, Nasarawa State, Mrs Eniola Obanure, who has been helping the malnourished children, in an interview with our correspondent, said based on enlightenment, more women were becoming aware of the problem in the state.
“You will see that the number of women that are here are over 100 and before it was not like that. Before you would see just few people, maybe three, four or five persons, but now, the situation has improved. The children brought here have been cared for through the pumping and their parents have taken the good news to other women, so more women have been coming.
“The government is also playing its role. The last time we had shortage of ready to use therapeutic food, the government released money to us to get the RTF through the UNICEF, but I don’t know how much was released,” she said.
Also speaking to Saturday PUNCH, Nutrition Focal Person, Modern Primary Health Care Centre, Tdun Kauri in Lafia Local Government Area the state, Mrs Lami Atsotan, revealed that about 2,000 children had been admitted to the facility so far and that about 670 had been treated successfully.
She said, “If the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference of the child is less than 11.5 after measurement has been taken, then we admit such a child. It is through MUAC that we are able to measure the nutrition status of a child. So after measurement, if the measurement gives us 11.5 or less than 11.5, then we admit the child and give treatment based on their weight.
“And we check the child’s respiration, temperature, whether they have cough, diarrhoea, or have been vomiting. We follow this process before we admit them.
“After that, if a child is to be admitted, we do appetite test to ensure whether that child can eat. If the child can take one-third of the food, then he is okay. Then, we now give the mother the food if that child cannot take it. We can refer them to the Stabilisation Centre to see a specialist.”
She commended the state government and the state primary health care development agency for providing therapeutic food for malnourished children, while urging them to provide more RTF and ensure that there is no disruption in its supply.
She said, “They should try to ensure that there is no disruption as the children are taking the RTF. It is taken for a minimum of eight weeks and maximum of 12 weeks. If the food is not given accordingly, the problem will relapse and the child will have to start again. So, we want the state government to make efforts to see that malnourished children are treated.”
Reacting to the situation of malnutrition in the state, Executive Chairman of the State Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Mohammed Usman Hadis, said the state government had established 15 nutrition centres across the three senatorial zones of the state.
Hadis said the centres were sited in Lafia, Wamba and Keffi local government areas of the state, five in each one.
According to him, the state government chose to establish the nutrition centres in only three local governments due to paucity of funds. He, however, added that more would be established across the state when the financial status of the state improves.
He added that nutrition experts had been trained and equipped with modern skills to man the centres.
Meanwhile, delivering a paper on the role of media in health care delivery, Mr Allanana Attah, the Director of Information, state Ministry of Information and Culture, had explained that the media has a great role to play in promoting effective health care system in the state.
He added that the media, as agenda setters, were better placed to understand and appreciate health care issues and steps towards improving same.