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Respite as UNICEF, Enugu, Others move against malnutrition in Enugu – By Jude Ossai/Enugu

 Gov. Ugwuanyi – spearheading the battle against malnutrition in Enugu

Thursday, September 8, 2022 was like any other working day to many people, particularly in Nigeria which is usually full of business activities both in private and public sectors. 

But to the people of Enugu State, it was a remarkable moment as it was a day the State government in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other development partners set aside to kick- start the process of redressing the hydra-headed challenges associated with malnutrition in the Coal City State. 

It was the first coordinating and partnership meeting of Enugu State Ministry of Budget and Planning, State Committee on Food and Nutrition (SCFN) and UNICEF with development partners and stakeholders on investment in nutrition in the state. 

The one-day summit which was held at Nike Lake Resort, Enugu was declared open by the  Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Mrs. Cecilia  Ezeilo who stood in for her boss, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

Present at the meeting were: HRH Ambassador Igwe Lawrence Agabuzo, UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Mrs Juliet Chiluwe, Executive Secretary, Enugu State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. George Ugwu, 

Others were members of the State Committee on Food Nutrition including its Acting Chairman, Mr. Edwin Anukwe, the State Nutrition Officer, Mrs. Henrietta Ugwu and other staff of UNICEF, Enugu Field Office. 

The event proper started at about 12.10pm with Master of Ceremony (MC) Aka Eze Aka calling up some dignitaries to high table. It was followed by an opening prayer by HRH Igwe Agubuzo the Chairman of Enugu State Traditional Council. 

In an address, Mrs Ezeilo reiterated Governor Ugwuanyi regime’s commitment to ratify the State Multi-sectoral Strategic Plan of Action on Nutrition with a view to preventing cases of malnutrition in the state.

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According to her, it would be in line with the adoption of the National Policy on Food and Nutrition and domestication of the National Strategic Plan of Action on Nutrition.

She said that Governor Ugwuanyi was delighted at the concerted efforts of the  fight against malnutrition in the state by continuously supporting nutrition interventions particularly through the FCDO/UNICEF Progressing Action for Resilient Systems for Nutrition through Innovation and Partnership (PARSNIP) programme in the state.

The PARSNIP, she said, is a grant matching-fund programme and is aligned with UNICEF’s commitments to the prevention, early detection and treatment of Child wasting while promoting government’s leadership in the programme

Earlier, the UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Mrs Chiluwe, noted that the theme of the discussion entitled: “Prioritising Investment in Maternal, Infant, Young Child and Adolescent Nutrition – A key to sustainable Development in Enugu State” was timely and apt.

Her words: “The theme of this meeting is timely and is in line with the global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals which  clearly states that 2030, end all forms of malnutrition including achieving by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons 

“UNICEF is committed to partnering with Enugu State and with other relevant partners and stakeholders to achieve this agenda”

Mrs. Chiluwe also noted that the Enugu gathering offered an opportunity for awareness creation and high level advocacy on the importance of nutrition to the survival and general well-being of women and the child as well as impact on development, productivity, economic growth and national development.

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“The event is strategic as policy makers from the state, local government areas, relevant Federal stakeholders and the private sector are present to reinforce Government support for the state to expand scope of nutrition programme which has been at the three pilot local government areas since 2019, roll out planned strategies and community innovation to tackle nutrition issues especially in the first 1000 days, with expectations of breaking the inter-generational cycle of undernutrition within Enugu State”, she said. 

According to her, “Available evidence shows that getting the right nutrients at the right time is critical. Enugu State  has stunting rate of 15% , approximately 147, 816 children are shorter than expected height for their age, with associated poor cognitive functions. Only 11% of children 0-6 months are fed exclusively on breast milk. Unfortunately, malnutrition has become a silent emergency in the state, and this silent emergency receives far too little attention”

Apparently not unaware of the huge presence of top government functionaries in the meeting, the UNICEF Chief Field Officer hit the nail on the head when she said unequivocally, “We understand that Nigeria is recovering from economic recession. However, the government must weigh competing priorities before making budget allocations.

“Investment to strengthen the health sector especially nutrition are profitable for building human capital which is a country’s greatest resource. A stronger health system ensures a stronger workforce for productive economy”, she said. 

One significant phenomenon observed by this reporter during the summit was that various speakers in the meeting agreed with the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Emmanuel Ikechukwu Obi assertion that there was urgent need to consider, approve and implement the state policy document on nutrition to ensure that the outcome of the engagement is included in the state budget.

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According to them, “Malnutrition is hampering the survival and development of children in the state and the nation”.

malnourished Children

Dr. Obi on his speech, commended Governor Ugwuanyi for his steadfastness in the payment of all counterpart funded projects in the state particularly as it relates to the health sector.  

The State Commissioner for Budget and Planning, Dr. Ugwunta, had in his welcome address thanked UNICEF for its support and interventions in Enugu State most importantly, seeing to the Enugu State Multi-sectoral Strategic Plan of Action on Nutrition, which is awaiting the State Executive Council’s ratification, becoming a reality.

Dr Ugwunta explained that the policy document when operational will provide a pathway for investments in nutrition-related activities by the state government, partners, donors, and the organised private sector.

Among the papers delivered by resource persons at the event  were: multi-media presentation, discussion of overview of nutrition situation in Nigeria, Financing Nutrition (Child Friendly Budgeting addressing malnutrition)- case of Enugu State. 

It was learnt that prior to the Thursday’s meeting, the officials of UNICEF and other development partners had visited Governor Ugwuanyi at Government House, Enugu where they exchanged pleasantries.

In-fact, malnutrition should be vigorously  fought at all fronts, hence there are applauds for the state government, UNICEF, development partners in their on-going crusade to end the scourge in the land.

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