As part of the efforts to curb child malnutrition in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has proposed about N300 millions in the 2019 budget for the procurement of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food ( RUTF).
According to the budget breakdown, the RUTF will be distributed across the country, while part of the money will also be used to establish Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) sites.
RUTF are enriched food that requires no preparation and is specifically designed to treat severe acute malnutrition (SAM), mostly in CMAM sites
Malnutrition, which can result in death, stunting, underweight and wasting among children under age five, has remained a serious concern in Nigeria as the statistics continues to rise.
According to the 2018 Nigeria Nutrition Health Survey (NNHS), about 2.6 million children under the age of five are threatened by malnutrition, with the insurgency ravaged North-east region accounting for over 900,000 of the affected children.
The report also revealed that over 10 million Nigerian children are stunted.
A statistical breakdown of malnourished children in the country shows that 42.8 per cent of children in the North-east are suffering from stunting and are at high risk of death due to malnutrition if urgent care is not received.
It also revealed that 29.7 per cent of children in the North-central, 20.8 per cent in the South-west, 20.4 per cent in the South-south and 17.2 per cent of children in the South-east are stunted.
Despite the increasing challenges of malnutrition in the country, the N300million proposed for RUTF in the 2019 appropriation bill is 33 percent lower than was approved in the 2018 budget.
In the 2018 budget, about N400million (N400,186,200) was approved for the procurement of RUTF and establishment of CMAM sites in the country.
The government also proposed N18,000,000 for Maternal, infant and Young Child Feeding Interventions in Nigeria, including Micronutrient Deficiency Control and Nutrition information Surveillance in the 2019 proposed budget.
Though it was indicated as a new project for 2019, it was stated in the 2018 approved budget as an ongoing project with N20million budgeted for it.
In spite of the amount budgeted for RUTF in 2018, malnutrition is still of high prevalence in the country.
Nigeria has been largely dependent on international donors who have been working in the sector to fund malnutrition campaigns. Experts say this is unacceptable as many children under five die from malnutrition.
A nutrition specialist, Bamidele Omotola, said that malnutrition funds were not released early despite the increasing challenges.
Speaking at a media dialogue in Yola last year, Mr Omotola said child malnutrition is silently killing hundreds of under-age children in the country.
“For instance, nearly half of the funds released for 2017 were released in 2018. In 2016, $2.75 million was committed only $1.2 million was released.
“In 2017, a total of $5.5 million was committed, only $3.97 million was released. This year, $3 million was committed and only $0.02 million has been released so far,” he said
He also said that malnutrition is strongly responsible for the poor development of the affected children, resulting in high number of out-of-school children and other poor health records in northern Nigeria.
Mr Omotola said the situation had assumed an emergency dimension which requires the urgent attention of the Nigerian government and other donors.