By ISMAILA UBA MISILLI
The recent award of excellence conferred on Governor Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe State as Nutrition Champion for the Nigerian Child by the International Society of Media in Public Health was, beyond the symbolic expression, a worthy leadership appreciation in reversing a harrowing medical trend as it was also a call to duty.
Of course, the history behind the award and its true meaning in humanising society through human capital development in the state cannot be overemphasized, which indeed underlined the importance of the award.
Until recently, malnutrition was a major health concern in Gombe State with the attendant classification of the state as one with a high record of children not being able to grow to their potentials. Yes, that’s the implication of malnutrition when it is left to do damage to the development of a child.
According to the Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research, a key indicator of malnutrition is stunting, “considered to be a very vital proxy for not only chronic nutritional deficit but for long term socio-economic deprivation among children and the society at large”.
In a recent research carried out in Gombe State aimed at determining the prevalence of stunting and its association with socio-demographic factors among school children, the prevalence of stunting was established especially among children in public schools compared with those in private schools just as low academic performance was also “significantly associated with high prevalence of stunting”.
Hence it was recommended that a multi-sectoral approach to addressing the problem be instituted by government and all stakeholders. And this was how the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) commenced in Gombe State in partnership with UNICEF.
The programme was originally piloted in three local government areas comprising 15 specialist centres. While UNICEF provided capacity building and supply of ready-to-use therapeutic food, the state and local governments provided the structures, manpower and supply of essential drugs. So far, so good. The programme has been very successful even with greater prospects of totally eradicating any form of malnutrition in the state.
It has to be stated that like some other development initiatives in the state where partnership had been a strategic plank of government’s development process, the timely provision of the state’s counterpart funding helped significantly in getting the desired result.
Alluding to the situation at the award ceremony held virtually, Governor Inuwa Yahaya noted with dismay that in spite of the human and natural resources the state is endowed with, the incidence of malnutrition was regrettably allowed to become a blight like in other vulnerable states for too long, a development which necessitated his government’s proactive action to combat it at the outset of his administration.
“We have a lot of food products that we produce locally but somehow some where the state failed to utilize them properly for the benefit of the children. So when I became governor, I realized that we are still so backward on the issue and I took it upon myself to relate with development partners and agencies in order to achieve the objective of giving proper nutrition to our children”, he stated.
However, going forward and in consonance with the challenge of sustainability, the programme has also undergone some review and renewal, making it so pivotal to look inwards in the essential provision of the basic ingredients. In this regard, the state government has innovated on the idea of sourcing local materials to keep going.
The understanding here being that government cannot continue to rely on the support from development partners indefinitely, hence the directive from the governor to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to find some means of having direct relationship with the Institute of Agricultural Research at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria so that Gombe State can now develop and produce a formula for the benefit of children in the state.
In order to realize the above strategic objective, the administration has committed over N30 million in this fiscal year on direct production and the state has already gotten certification from NAFDAC which has since prompted the distribution of ready-to-use therapeutic food to various units within the local government areas so that children across the state can benefit from it.
By the thinking of government, this initiative is going to be a permanent solution to the malnutrition challenges in the state since all the basic materials required like soya beans, maize, groundnuts and saseme are all available in the state.
Waxing very optimistic on the development, Governor Inuwa Yahaya stated thus, ”We have gotten the formula and the Technology Incubation Centre in Gombe has provided the basic machines required in order to continuously produce and I believe going forward, Gombe will come to be listed out of those states that have issues of malnutrition”.
Governor Yahaya acknowledged the support and encouragement his administration is getting from the various development partners and allied strategic institutions, adding that Gombe State will continue to collaborate with relevant agencies and bodies in order to rid the state and entire country from the menace of malnutrition.
The Executive Director of the organization, Mrs Moji Makanjuola, lauded the governor’s 10-year development plan which emphasizes HOD with a special focus on nutrition and related policies tackling issues affecting children.
On a broader note, the nutrition programme is also very helpful in mitigating maternal and child mortality because good nutrition is key to sound health development for both mother and child with the concomitant effect on economic growth and development.
In the words of USAID, “optimal maternal nutrition contributes to the survival of both mother and child and promotes women’s overall health, productivity and wellbeing”. This position has also been shared by UNICEF by calling for increased focus on mother and child nutrition as the backbone of a healthy life and with the salient reminder that such steps were critical in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.
On national scale, the UN expects achievement on the SDG’s target of reducing maternal mortality by ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births and end the preventable death of children under five years of age to as low as 25 per 1000 live births. These are major health issues the Gombe State Government is working hard to address and with the ongoing programme to solidify good nutrition base in the state, the future of our children is very bright by attaining their potentials in life.
Misilli is Director-General ( Press Affairs) Government House Gombe