Child malnutrition increases significantly in Nigeria

A record number of children in northern Nigeria are experiencing severe malnutrition, according to aid workers in the region. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization office in Maiduguri stated that Nigeria has the highest number of food-insecure people worldwide, totaling 31.8 million. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), active in seven states, reported that their facilities are so overwhelmed that children are being treated on floor mattresses. In April, MSF admitted 1,250 children to a therapeutic feeding center in Maiduguri, double the number from the same month in 2023.

Dr. Simba Tirima, MSF’s representative in Nigeria, highlighted the urgent situation, noting a significant increase in patient numbers compared to last year. Severe acute malnutrition has led to other health issues, including tuberculosis and acute diarrhea, and has stunted children’s growth. In 2023, over 52,000 children were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition across seven states, with 2,693 fatalities, according to MSF data.

The rise in malnutrition is attributed to several factors, including nearly 30% food inflation in Nigeria, where a third of the population lives on less than £1 a day. Additionally, farmland has been deserted in the north due to violence from gangs, leading to food scarcity. In the first three months of this year, 165 farmers were killed, as reported by the Nigerian newspaper the Punch.

By the end of 2022, about 1.2 million people were displaced in eight central and north-west states due to violence, while 2.3 million were displaced in the north-east because of jihadist groups like Boko Haram. Economic instability and insecurity have driven up food prices, and some villages have depleted their food reserves with stagnant household incomes.

In response to the crisis, the government released 2,000 metric tonnes of grains from federal reserves in February, with Agriculture Minister Abubakar Kyari emphasizing that “Food security is national security.” However, aid organizations warn that millions remain at risk of famine as Nigeria approaches the lean season from June to September. The World Food Programme predicts that 26.5 million Nigerians could face acute hunger by the end of this period.

Experts are calling for immediate funding to prevent the situation from worsening and to save millions of vulnerable children. Dr. Tirima stressed the need for more organizations to assist, stating that MSF’s efforts are only a small part of the necessary response to the crisis. He emphasized the preventability of malnutrition-related deaths, calling for urgent action.

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