Lack of Funding Threatens Child Nutrition in Bauchi

The Bauchi State, like several other states in Nigeria, is grappling with a public health crisis, particularly affecting children aged 6-23 months. This crisis is exacerbated by inadequate access to nutritious food and essential healthcare services, in many instances leading to high mortality rates from preventable diseases and malnutrition.

In this context, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s Child Nutrition Fund (CNF) became a transforming approach to prevent children from acute malnutrition due to food poverty. UNICEF measures child food poverty using the UNICEF-WHO children’s dietary diversity score in early childhood.

The Progressing Action on Resilient Systems for Nutrition through Innovation and Partnership (PARSNIP) Program, currently being implemented by Gombe State with technical support from the UNICEF Bauchi Field Office, is part of the efforts addressing the children’s nutrition and health challenges.

However, WikkiTimes gathered that no active formal child complementary feeding programs exist in Bauchi State. This lapse is due to the state’s failure to release the necessary counterpart funding to UNICEF, a critical financial contribution required to ensure the success of nutrition projects.

The absence of formal programs that provide nutritious food to children in the state heightens their health risk and increases the number of children potentially dying from malnutrition.

Under this funding arrangement, each state is required to contribute N100 million as counterpart funding for the UNICEF Child Nutrition Fund (CNF) project. This funding is essential for the procurement and distribution of nutritious food items to children in need.

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Health experts suggest that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are crucial for physical development and brain growth commencing from pregnancy, and breastfeeding, to the baby’s first two years.

According to Philomena Irene, Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF’s Bauchi Field Office, the CNF is fundamentally transforming the approach to addressing child wasting and stunting. She explained that it also prevents children from acute malnutrition due to food poverty.

The specialist stressed that the program is a new financing mechanism designed to enhance global and national governance for the early prevention, detection, and treatment of child wasting.

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Speaking during a media briefing in Gombe, Irene emphasized that investing in nutrition is one of the smartest investments a state can make to break the cycle of poverty, address inequality, and boost productivity in later life. “Today, millions of young children are not reaching their full potential because of inadequate nutrition,” she said.

CNF aimed to Reduce hunger and malnutrition, through providing meals, snacks, or food assistance to children in need and promoting healthy eating habits by way of educating children and families.

CNF Impact

Data from UNICEF highlighted the severity of the situation particularly in Bauchi State. As of September 2022, Bauchi State had 299,116 children aged 6-23 months. However, only 11,965 representing only 4% of these children have access to a Minimum Acceptable Diet, which includes foods from five or more food groups.

The remaining 287,151 children representing 96% of this age group in Bauchi were not receiving the required nutrition.

In contrast, Adamawa State, which fulfilled its counterpart funding obligation, had 176,474 children aged 6-23 months, with 20,824 (12%) children receiving a Minimum Acceptable Diet – suggesting that 155,650 (88%) were malnourished – highlighting the impact of state funding on child nutrition.

Dr Rilwanu Mohammed, Chairman of the Bauchi State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, told WikkiTimes, “We are not doing it here (in Bauchi). You know if you have activity with any organization, you will pay a counterpart fund. We are not doing it here.”

While Dr. Mohammed noted that 80% of women in Bauchi engage in complementary feeding after their children reach six months, he also acknowledged that these efforts are not part of any organized or sponsored program.

“Women are doing it in Bauchi State, but it is not a formal program sponsored by any organisation.”

This means that these feeding practices may not meet the necessary standards for proper child nutrition, potentially leading to malnutrition and stunted growth among children.

UNICEF, renowned for its robust complementary feeding programs in over 20 countries, is notably absent in Bauchi due to the funding shortfall. The need for comprehensive and structured complementary feeding programs in Bauchi is critical. The health and future of Bauchi’s children depend on swift and decisive action to implement and maintain these nutritional support programs.

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The UNICEF project aims to provide children aged 6-23 months with a diet adequate for their health and development. Bauchi State’s failure to meet its financial obligation raises serious concerns about the welfare of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Without the necessary funding, the initiative to combat malnutrition among young children in the state is significantly threatened.

For Irene, the nutrition specialist, diverse diets in the first two years of life are associated with improved linear growth. “Conversely, diets lacking in diversity – particularly nutrient-dense foods such as eggs, fish, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables – can increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies, stunted growth, and impaired physical and cognitive development,” she explained.

Long-term Health Risks

Malnutrition during these formative years can lead to long-term health issues, including impaired cognitive development and a weakened immune system. While informal complementary feeding is happening, the absence of a structured and sponsored program raises concerns about the consistency and quality of nutritional support being provided to children in Bauchi.

The future health and development of the state’s children depend on immediate and effective action to ensure they receive the nutrition they need to thrive.

Bauchi State had earlier promised to scale up children’s and women’s nutrition services by adopting and implementing national policies and guidelines, and increased investment in the state nutrition plan, starting from 2021 to 2026.

However, these figures and nonchalant in investing in access to healthy food for the young ones, indicate that the state will hardly fulfil this promise. Thus, as suggested by Irene, Bauchi State should take a window of opportunity of the Matched Nutrition Fund to contribute to improving the health and nutrition of children 6 to 23 months in the state.

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