The Senate has advocated for the introduction of what it christened Nigeria Fund for Nutrition in order to combat malnutrition in the country.
This is even as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo disclosed that since the inauguration of the National Council on Nutrition in 2017, the federal and state governments have so far invested over N3.8 billion in nutrition, especially, the procurement of Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF).
He made the disclosure at a virtual conference on nutrition with the theme-‘harnessing innovative financing options for nutrition- unravelling the bottleneck’.
The virtual conference was organized by Aisha Buhari Foundation in collaboration with the International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH).
The Vice President said: “In April 2016, after the review and adoption of the National Food and Nutrition Policy, the President inaugurated the National Council on Nutrition in 2017.
“The Council is charged with providing strategic direction in ensuring coordinated and allowing programming and coordinating innovating financing and accountability for nutrition intervention.
“The Council has also approved a multi-sectoral plan.
“The administration has also ensured progressive increases in budgetary allocations for nutrition activities across the country.
“There has been an increased investment of about 3.8 billion naira in nutrition by federal and state governments, especially, for the procurement of RUTF.”
He disclosed that some things the government has done to improve nutrition include: “The revatilisation of the primary healthcare system with nutrition as a primary focus and the promotion of optimum breast feeding with full quality of complementary foods.
“Social investment programme, particularly, our home grown feeding programme for public primary schools that currently feeds well over 9m children across 34 states and the FCT, serving one nutritious meal everyday.”
On his part, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, advocated for the establishment of what he christened ‘Nigeria Fund for Nutrition.’
“We need to agree on a specific funding mechanism for nutrition that will be multi sectoral and will be public pillage.
“I want to suggest for a kind of establishment of a Nigeria Fund for Nutrition that will work like other global mechanism that look at specific subject.
“I want to suggest that currently, what we have our focus has been on budgetary allocation to the health or either to nutrition specific or look at what are the government budget under non specific nutrient intervention.
“I want a situation where we have from the multisectoral perspective, a public private funding mechanism where we will be able to guarantee the government sector will have a better coordination of what is coming from the private sector. I think we can work out this.”
Wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, lamented that despite concerted efforts made by the government, Nigeria still records millions of children suffering and even dying from one form of malnutrition or the other.
Represented by the wife of the Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo, Mrs Buhari further regretted that Nigeria has second largest number of stunted children in the world that will never be able to have an optimally productive life at all levels.
“This will be disservice because tomorrow, we may never have competent young adult in the nation- in government, business, academia and other segment.
“We are not going to stop having conversation around malnutrition until we have reduce the scourge of malnutrition affecting our children and secure our vulnerable Nigerians who are at risk; until we create systems where our children can survive and poses the needed cognitive ability to handle the future.
“We will only stop when our communities understand the need to adopt proper method of young child feeding practices; when our governments at all levels back up their commitments by funding nutrition by ensuring allocations and interventions are duly executed.
“We will only stop when the private sector realizes that no business can truly succeed without investment in the future of the nation.”
She, however, noted that: “We have made some progress in the recent years, especially, having stakeholders talking about malnutrition and getting more nutrition sensitive budget at both the national and state levels.”
On his part, the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, noted that there is a clear relationship between malnutrition and underdevelopment of a country as its affects the wellbeing of a people; it drains the nation of quality human capital and hinders economic and social development.
He, however, noted that investing in nutrition is a cost effective driver of development and prosperity because it enables children to grow to their full potential and it triggers positive social and economic changes.
Ehanire lamented that: “Nigeria, unfortunately has the highest number of stunted children below age 5 in Africa and the second highest in the world. Its stunting and wasting rates of 37 and 7 per cent respectively.
“The proportion of children exclusively breastfed from birth to 6 months of age is only 29 per cent while 12 per cent of women of the 15 to 49 years child bearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition.”
On the efforts of his ministry, the health minister said: “The Federal Ministry of Health is committed to fighting malnutrition in all forms and government spending in nutrition has increased over the years with 1.8 billion spent over the last two years on RUTF to treat children with Severe Acute Malnutrition at over 2000 sites of Community Management of Acute Malnutrition in 26 states of the federation”.
He called for private sector involvement in the fight against malnutrition through investment in infrastructure, mobilise extra resources, produce nutritional commodities like RUTF, train health workers and much more.