The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) says 152,243 children below five years of age are suffering from stunted growth in Enugu State.
Mrs Maureen Zubie-Okolo, Planning and Monitoring Specialist, UNICEF Enugu Field Office, made the declaration in Enugu on Friday, at a policy dialogue with Enugu State Executive and Legislative Councils on Investment in Nutrition.
Zubie-Okolo attributed the situation to poor nutrition arising from poor maternal, infant and young child feeding practices, particularly during the first 1,000 days of birth.
“In Enugu State, only 7.8 per cent of children below five years of age receive the minimum acceptable diet, while less than one-fifth of children from 0-5 months are exclusively breastfed.
“This is a call for both the executive and legislative arms to come together to ensure that nutrition is placed on the government’s agenda,’’ she said.
Zubie-Okolo said that malnutrition had become a silent emergency, which, unfortunately, was receiving far too little attention.
She said that the meeting was in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda of ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
Zubie-Okolo said that the goals also included achieving internationally-agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children below five years of age by 2025.
She said that UNICEF was committed to working with its partners, including the state government, to achieve the agenda.
She added that nutrition had received perennially low attention in Nigeria and Enugu State, in particular, adding that the development had, therefore, contributed to the high global malnutrition rates.
Zubie-Okolo observed that investment in scaling-up nutrition would yield immediate returns, save lives and enable children and their mothers to have a better future.
In her contribution, a Nutrition Specialist, Mrs Chizoba Steve-Edemba, said that the nutrition indices in Enugu State were so low and needed to be addressed.
She appealed to the state government to extend the maternity leave granted to nursing mothers to six months.
“This will help the state to improve nutrition outcomes for all and improve human capital development,’’ she said.
Responding, the Enugu State Commissioner for Budget and Planning, Mr David Ugwunta, said that the state government would aggregate all the issues raised at the meeting and attend to them.
Ugwunta made a commitment that the budget provisions for nutrition management in the state would be improved.