By The Woman Today*
(SAM) is a killer that must be stopped and banished to the annals of history. This killer ignored by successive governments of Nigeria, SAM results from the absence or shortage of proper nutrition to nourish and sustain the body. Poor or lack of proper nourishment can cause the human immune system to grow weak, weaker and weaker, until it collapses and is unable to properly perform its cardinal function of combating diseases that seize the opportunity of poor nourishment to cause infection and other complications.
SAM is most prevalent among poor countries, especially developing, undeveloped and underdeveloped countries of the world. While SAM affects the community in its entirety, it is a problem that most severely impacts on children, leaving women to bear the brunt of care giving. The nightmare of any woman, especially the rural woman who has little or no access to immediate public health attention, is a child suffering from malnutrition; the worst case scenario being a family of children suffering from this deadly ailment. A 2017 report of the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) reveals that there is an estimated 2.5 Million children under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Nigeria. The report further states that nearly 420,000 children die annually as a result of this killer disease which must be banished from society. Conditions which make children nine times more likely to die of childhood diseases are diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia. (Secondary source; ISMPH Press Release; November, 2021. Primary reference needed.)
In its modest contribution to contribute combating this deadly disease, International Society of Media in Public Health (ISMPH), with funding from the European Union Agents for Citizen Driven Transformation (EU-ACT) programme, is implementing a project aimed at addressing this menace in Bwari and Kwali Area Councils, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The project targets mainly women as its primary beneficiaries. During a focus group discussion among women in Kwali Area Council, the women identified two major causes of SAM, namely, poverty and ignorance, and were excited that the ISMPH/EU-ACT project has exposed them to affordable skills and ways of combating SAM from the domestic front. Noting that ISMPH through this project will raise the awareness level of women on basic nutrition and build their capacity on small-scale business strategies to enable mothers to develop sustainable ideas on best practices of combating SAM. The project is also building the capacity of journalists with knowledge on SAM, empowering them to amplify information about the clear and present dangers posed by SAM to children and communities.
One of the guiding pillars of this project is using media to create public awareness in order to shape public views concerning malnutrition. To achieve this, ISMPH created a media network in 2018. Through this network, ISMPH has already begun to reach the general public through quality reportage and media appearances, raising public awareness on the enormous dangers posed by severe acute malnutrition.
It is noteworthy that all over the world, there have been statutes and policies put in place by global organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations (UN), the World Bank and similar institutions aimed at combating and eradicating severe acute malnutrition. Some of these statutes and policies include …. Nigeria is one of the signatory-countries to the United Nation’s laudable sustainable development goals (SDGs), the first three of which are: …. For any country, especially Nigeria and other so-called Third World (undeveloped, under-developed and developing) countries to achieve the goals of the UN as agreed at the …, it is imperative that the government takes stock and begin to put measures in place to address the perennial menace of SAM. SAM is eradicable, but has persisted, subjecting families, communities and entire tribes to miserable lives, driving some to the threatening point of extinction (Stats?).
Dwelling on the myriad of causes and problems cause by SAM, however, will only amount to stating the obvious but, perhaps one problem stands out as unique and particularly dangerous. Prolonged violent conflict occasioned by insurgency and terrorism; resource-and-territory-based violence in farmer-herder communities; widespread banditry and general insecurity; have all led, among other negatives, to displacement of whole communities and villages, rendering innocent people homeless, without means of livelihood, and thus vulnerable to severe acute malnutrition. Because internally displaced persons (IDPs) lack the wherewithal and opportunity to fend for themselves and their families, the cases of SAM recorded in IDP transit camps is very high and continues to grow higher (Statistics needed here). IDPs experience SAM in most harrowing miseries as a result of lack of proper nutrition. Perennial neglect by government authorities, in addition to hardships caused by a collapsing economy have contributed to increasing malnutrition among families, communities and villages. Governments over the last six decades have always turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to this menace. Corrupt politicians and conniving technocrats have over the decades colluded to divert resources meant for child nutrition and public health programmes. Women, who are perhaps the most hard-hit by the SAM menace, are minimally represented in government and other spaces of influence, where decisions are made for the society. But, dwelling on the problems will not solve the problem.
What ought to occupy the attention of authorities and stakeholders is how to address this ruthless menace. Government and civil society must begin to look more seriously at this problem and come up with ways of squarely addressing it. There have been programmes and interventions in the past, designed to address the persistent challenge of SAM, but the political will and strategic thinking needed to tackle it head-on has always been elusive. Why is this so? One might want to ask. The answer is not far-fetched.
Perhaps the leading factor that enables malnutrition to thrive is corruption. Every year, federal, states and local governments plan and budget for developmental and social intervention programmes. Budgeted funds for these programmes are yearly being appropriated and disbursed, but end up getting diverted into private pockets by corrupt politicians, colluding public servants and conniving contractors. This being the case, it becomes clear that eradicating corruption is the key to banishing severe acute malnutrition. Unless corruption is eradicated or at least drastically curbed, this problem will likely persist. Compounding the obvious problem caused by corruption, the low representation of women in policy and decision making positions contributes to making the fight to eradicate SAM a Sisyphean travail.
As already demonstrated, SAM, without an iota of doubt, affects mostly children. Women being the ones saddled with caring for children and the aged are therefore on the receiving end of the miseries of SAM. It is no longer news that the presence of women in Nigeria’s political affairs is very low. While the turnout of women during elections has remained consistently high, it is ironic that this has never translated into more women seeking and getting elected or appointed into political offices. This paradox shows the obvious discrimination against women in public affairs, and clearly points to the pertinent need for increased women participation in politics.
For instance, out of the 109 Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, only 8 are women. In the Federal House of Representatives which has 360 Honourable members, only 13 are women. The same statistical imbalance pervades the entire public service, where the bulk of federal cabinet members are men, with women appointed to mostly non-strategic ministries, departments and agencies; while the top and middle management cadres of the civil service are made up of men, women having been relegated to support services such as office attendants, street cleaners, and other ad hoc services. Unless these indices are addressed; unless government takes deliberate steps to meet its obligations to the Beijing Declaration, Affirmative Action and Nigeria’s National Action Plan on gender equality which stipulates that there must be minimum 35% women representation of women in all public spheres, this problem of SAM will always persist. It is the candid conviction of International Society of Media and Public Health that increasing the number of women in political offices in Nigeria is a sure way to banishing severe acute malnutrition to the annals of history.
The Woman Today is a rested, gender sensitive weekly ran by Dame Ene Ede. This could be a signal for its return.