The Minister of Health, Osagie Ohanire, launched the Revised National Health Promotion Policy, along with its ancillary policy documents that detailed the Nigerian government’s approach to improving health outcomes.
This approach targets the reduction of adverse health outcomes through behavioural and lifestyle changes. Whilst this is a welcome development, it does little to address the persistent challenge of malnutrition in Nigeria, a significant obstacle to the promotion of preventive health care.
The prevalence of various forms of malnutrition in Nigeria is high. This is measured in its various forms – stunting, wasting and other vitamin and mineral deficiencies. An estimated 361,000 Nigerian children die annually from malnutrition and other related diseases; the country loses about 2,300 children below 5 years and 145 women of childbearing age daily.
A key factor contributing to this crisis is poverty. Approximately half of Nigeria’s population, an estimated 105 million Nigerians, live below the poverty line on less than US$2 a day. As a result, many households do not have access to the varied selection of nutritious foods, which ordinarily constitute a balanced diet; they rely mostly on grain and tuber foods that are often lacking in essential nutrients.
The federal and state governments are implementing several nutrition programmes, especially in areas disrupted by insecurity, e.g., North East Nigeria, which currently has the highest regional burden of malnutrition. They collaborate with various civil society and non-governmental organisations to deliver these services effectively.
Many of these types of direct intervention programmes are targeted at providing emergency care in situations that demand urgency. For the vast majority of Nigerians outside of conflict zones, nutrition is directly impacted by the quality of foods they are able to access and consume. Quality, specifically around micronutrients, was the key factor that led the Nigerian government to introduce mandatory regulations necessitating the fortification of a selection of staple foods – wheat flour, semolina flour, maize flour, sugar, and edible oils – in 2002. Business Day