A Nigerian senator has called on the federal government to grant import waiver to Ready- to- Use Therapeutic foods.
Lanre Tejuosho (APC-Ogun Central District) made the call on Monday at an event organised by the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja.
The event, “Nigeria Health in Humanitarian Response Dialogue” was a forum to discuss the importance of health services in humanitarian response in the country.
The aim was to review health responses in humanitarian situations and ensure those who need health services can access them promptly.
The event came up against the background of continuous unrest in the North-east and other parts of Nigeria where there have been humanitarian emergencies.
The senator, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, said the insurgency in the North-east is having an indirect effect on the health of children in the region.
Mr Tejuosho said many children under the age of five in the area are suffering from acute malnutrition. This, he said, has been intensified by the Boko Haram insurgency which has displaced many families. He said fighting malnutrition was often impeded by the shortage of RUTF in the country.
Mr Tejuosho said the products are not readily available in the market and Nigeria has to depend on international partners to import them. He urged the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, to push for a waiver on the importation of RUTF so that people who want to support the cause can easily have access to the products.
“We have about 2.5 million children who are malnourished and to feed them needs special kind of intervention (RUTF), which is not readily available in Nigeria. I know that so many Nigerians that want to support or contribute towards reviving these children, it is one thing to have the money to support; it is another thing to have the product available.
“The problem now is the product is not available despite the fact that we have many of our people who are ready to support. We can see the number of Indomie noddles they buy whenever they want to go see the children. We need these products to be readily available. I believe the minister should approve a waiver for people who are interested in importing the product so that people can buy,” he said.
RUTF are food designed for specific, usually nutritional, therapeutic purposes as a form of dietary supplement.
In his remark, Mr Adewole said the dialogue was a pre-event to the main summit proposed for later in the year.
He said the dialogue was expedient, considering the widespread conflict and heightened level of restiveness which have resulted in the degeneration of health outcomes among inhabitant of affected communities.
Mr Adewole said health serves are a constant denominator for quantifying the magnitude of a crisis.
“The health of many children and mothers in the North-east has been affected due to the crisis and has worsened due to the destruction of health facilities and the displacements of people.
“Our primary goal as health workers is to curb incidence of excess morbidities and mortalities, which normally ensues as a consequence of crisis situation. Also, to provide Basic Essential Services for affected population and to strengthen the health system in the region.”
Mr Adewole said the government declared a state of emergency on health and nutrition in Borno State after disturbing reports of a rapidly increasing trend of mortalities in the state.
This, he said, was occasioned by the lack of basic health and nutrition for the affected population.
“In response to this dire situation, a rapid response team was immediately deployed to assess the situation in conjunction with the state ministry of health and partners so as to develop a need based plan of action, while helping to provide whatever service was possible at the time.
“Arising from this assessment, a Health and Nutrition Emergency Response Project was developed to address the issue of access to quality health and nutrition care in the 25 accessible LGAs by providing an effective mix of ad-hoc human resource for health, medicines and health-related supplies and logistics support to improve health service delivery and quality of care. This Project has been on-going for three (3) years now and is presently in its third (3rd) phase,” he said.
Globally, malnutrition is a direct and underlying cause of 45 per cent of all deaths of under-five children.
Unfortunately, acute malnutrition is one of the major public health challenges facing children under the age of five in Nigeria.
High rates of malnutrition pose significant public health and development challenges for the country. Nigeria has the second highest burden of malnourished children. Malnutrition is sometimes referred to as the silent killer because, if not attended to, particularly in young children, it can lead to death.
According to UNICEF, an estimated 2.5 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), but only two out of every 10 children affected is currently reached with treatment. Seven per cent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition.
According to a report by the Federal Government Health and Nutrition Emergency Response Plan (HNERP) in Borno State, there are an estimated 244,268 SAM cases and 241,554 Moderate Malnutrition cases under the age of five, including 183,352 malnourished pregnant women and breastfeeding women in the state.
Also, a recent assessment done in the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe by the World Health Organisation indicates various degree of malnutrition among children under five and pregnant or lactating mothers.
Six local government areas in Yobe State – Jakusko, Karaswa, Machina, Nguru and Yunufari – presented a critical rate of global acute malnutrition above the 15 per cent emergency threshold. Five LGAs in Borno, (Abadam, Mobbar, Guzamala, Kukawa, and Nganzai) showed between 10-14 per cent GAM.
Generally, 2.7 million women and children in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states need nutrition support, including 310 000 children in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 250,000 who suffer from moderate acute malnutrition.
The federal government in support of partners has been providing active life-saving medical assistance to some of the affected children and population.