Malnutrition is a pervasive issue that plagues communities worldwide, and Benue state in Nigeria is no exception. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently sounded the alarm, revealing that over 283,727 children in Benue state are stunted due to malnutrition. This alarming statistic serves as a wake-up call, urging all stakeholders to come together and take concerted efforts to reverse this troubling trend.
The Concerning State of Malnutrition in Benue
Stunting Prevalence: Benue, often referred to as the “Food Basket of Nigeria,” is grappling with a stunting rate of 21 percent, which translates to a staggering 283,727 children under the age of five suffering from stunted growth. This is a grave concern as stunted growth can lead to irreversible physical and cognitive impairments in children.
Underweight Children: Additionally, the prevalence of underweight children in Benue stands at 13.6 percent. This further highlights the severity of the malnutrition crisis in the state.
Lack of Exclusive Breastfeeding: One of the distressing aspects of this situation is that nearly 43 percent of children in Benue do not receive the vital benefits of exclusive breastfeeding within the first six months of life. Exclusive breastfeeding is crucial for a child’s early development, as it provides essential nutrients and boosts immunity.
UNICEF’s Call to Action
Mrs. Juliet Chiluwe, the Chief of UNICEF Field Office in Enugu, expressed her deep concern during a coordination meeting of partners, stakeholders, and government agencies in Makurdi. She emphasized that the gravity of the situation demands urgent attention. Malnutrition in Benue has become a silent emergency, receiving far too little attention.
UNICEF is committed to addressing this crisis head-on and is ready to collaborate with all relevant stakeholders, including government bodies, other United Nations agencies, the media, civil society, and the private sector. Mrs. Chiluwe stressed that the stakes could not be higher, and the path to progress could not be clearer.
The Importance of Nutrition
The causes of stunting and malnutrition may be complex, but the solution is clear—nutrition. Investments in Scaling-Up Nutrition will yield immediate returns. Adequate nutrition not only saves lives but also contributes to better futures for children and their mothers, reduces poverty, and fosters economic growth.
Yet, nutrition remains an issue with perennially low attention in Nigeria and Benue state. This lack of focus has contributed to alarmingly high global malnutrition rates.
The State’s Efforts
A comprehensive review of results in 2021 showed significant progress in reducing child food poverty rates across the country. However, Benue still lags behind other states, indicating that more concerted efforts are needed to ensure children’s access to adequate nutrition for their development.
A Multi-Sectoral Approach
To effectively combat malnutrition in Benue, a multi-sectoral approach is imperative. Prof. Mathew Anigo highlighted that a staggering 54 percent of child deaths under the age of five are attributed to malnutrition. Factors such as climate change and global conflicts, like the Russia/Ukraine war, have exacerbated this issue.
Prof. Anigo underscored the need for a public-private partnership to address this challenge comprehensively. He called upon political leaders to demonstrate the necessary will and develop nutritional plans and policies that can reverse the current trend.
In conclusion, the alarming statistics of malnutrition in Benue state are a cause for concern, and the time for action is now. UNICEF, alongside other stakeholders, is committed to working relentlessly to improve the nutritional status of children in the state. Nutrition is not just a health issue; it is a pathway to a brighter future for the state, its people, and the nation.
It is imperative that we all join forces to address this silent emergency, as the consequences of inaction are dire. Let us remember that the key to a child’s survival, growth, and development is as simple as ensuring they receive proper nutrition. This is not just a matter of health; it is a matter of the future prosperity of Benue and Nigeria as a whole.