By Sola Ogundipe
AN estimated 33 per cent of children below 5 years in Nigeria are suffering from chronic malnutrition. Worse still, half of the children in the poorest 40 per cent of households suffer from stunting.
However, the Federal government is rising to the challenge and increasing access and use of nutritional services, by delivering simple but effective messages through use mobile phones and other related gadgets.
Disclosing this last week in Abuja, during the National launch of the Mobile Nutrition Programme for Nigeria, Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, said it was a significant step towards the drive for achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
In a keynote address entitled “Using Mobile Technology to Expand Access of health and Nutrition Services”, he recounted how Federal government, recognising the malnutrition challenge, had adopted series of measures to stem the tide.
He said with support from relevant stakeholders, the Federal Ministry of Health has developed effective messages that would ensure an uptake of health and nutrition practices by the populace.
“The nutrition content specifically targets the five key developmental stages, viz: Women of reproductive age, pregnancy, newborns, infants and children under 5 years of age.
“These messages are to be implemented through Short Message Service (SMS) and voice in major local dialects across Nigeria.
Vulnerable groups: “Thus, vulnerable pregnant women and mothers with children under the age of 2 can access life-saving nutrition mobile content on health and nutrition information and education services.”
Further, Adewole observed that in cognizance of the progress to date, and in line with national stakeholders, the mNutrition programme using its major outputs-the nutrition framework, factsheets and mobile ready content in voice and text, be launched for greater national awareness and endorsement.
“This will thereby contribute to the attainment of the goal of the National Policy on Food and Nutrition and invariably, the targets set for the National Strategic Plan of Action for Nutrition by 2019.”
In his presentation, the Minister recalled that in 2016, Wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari launched the National Policy on Food and Nutrition in Nigeria, he said: “The policy is consistent with the 2014–2019 Health sector National Strategic Plan of Action on Nutrition (NSPAN), which identifies six priorities areas namely: maternal nutrition, infant and young child feeding, management of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in children less than five years old; micronutrient deficiency control, diet related NCDs and Nutrition Information Systems.
Further, he stated that six strategies through which the priorities will be achieved include: Advocacy and Resource Mobilisation; Behaviour Change Communication; capacity building; service delivery;Research, Monitoring and Evaluation
and Coordination and Multi-Sectoral Partnerships.
“The mNutrition Programme, which is part of the BCC strategy in our National Strategic Plan of Action on Nutrition (NSPAN) is a project that leverages on technology to scale up the delivery of health and nutrition messages towards improved health outcomes in Nigeria.
Mobile technology: “The use of mobile technology as a means of advancing behavioral change practices is not new in Nigeria. In September 2013, the UK Government supporting development programmes on mHealth and mAgriculture through the Grameen Foundation in partnership with the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) supported the promotion of health services through mobile telephones.
“More recently, GSMA brought together the mobile communication industry and health stakeholders in the eight African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia to develop and scale up the delivery of nutrition messages towards improved health outcomes, in line with efforts aimed at contributing to the progress on the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
Focus:Adewole said such messages typically focus on educational content geared towards improving nutritional practices such as the promotion of balanced diets, basic steps for improving nutritional content of locally available foods, encouraging exclusive breastfeeding of infants, and safe and appropriate complementary feeding of infants and young children.
Malnutrition slows economic growth and perpetuates poverty by reducing children’s brain development, ability to learn, diminishes productivity in adult years.
Most malnutrition happens in the first 1000 days of a child’s life—from conception to the child’s second birthday—and children lose up to 10 IQ points if they do not receive adequate nutrition and care in the first 1000 days of their lives.
The early damage is essentially irreversible, with impaired cognitive development, reduced learning ability and lost productivity in adult years.
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