United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has restated its commitment and support for the Delta State Government in the renewed effort to flatten the curve for malnutrition in the state, particularly through supplementary and improved dietary provisions for adolescents in the state.

The UNICEF zonal Chief of Field Office (Rivers), Dr. Tushar Rane, gave the assurance in virtual remarks at a one-day meeting in Asaba with stakeholders for Scale-Up of Adolescent Nutrition Programme for six local government areas of Delta State, organised by UNICEF.

While lauding the state government for putting in place necessary policy instruments for a scale-up of the adolescent nutritional status of the state because of their importance to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he commended the initiative to increase the initial three local government areas to six under the pilot programme.

The gains of the pilot programme should be replicated in the additional three local government areas, Rane charged, stressing that addressing the often overlooked adolescent nutrition challenges in the society generally would go a long way in the efforts to solve the many problems triggered by pervasive poor feeding among the critical segment of the population.

UNICEF will continue to support the Delta State Government to ensure that the programme it started in 2018 in the state was scaled up to and extended to other local government areas to prevent acute malnutrition among the adolescents particularly the girl-child, the UNICEF chief stated. Moreover, the organisation’s Nutrition Expert and Programme Coordinator, Mrs. Ngozi S. Onuora, noted that the UNICEF pilot programme in three local government areas of Isoko South, Ika North-East and Ethiope West had outstanding impact on numerous adolescents who were placed on Iron-Folic Acid (IFA) supplementation offered through various channels including schools.

The significant step-up by three additional local government areas, namely Burutu, Ukwuani and Ethiope East, which brings the benefiting unit areas to six, bore welcome testimony to a working partnership between the Delta State Government and UNICEF, Mrs. Onuora asserted.

She pointed out that this programme was the first that specifically targeted those aged 15-19 years (adolescent), adding that young persons within this bracket were ready to transit to adulthood but that their transition could be hindered by poor feeding habit unless there was deliberate intervention to stem such.

Onuora said that the adolescent nutrition programme was also aimed at drastic reduction in cases of anaemia, which is common among adolescents, for the in and out-of-school children so as to ensure a healthier society.

Aside the administering the food supplements, a new arrangement was introduced whereby women and youths were exposed to basic economic activities like nutritious vegetable farming and proper food preparations for all-year-round cash flow vis-a-vis improved nutrition, she disclosed.

According to Onuora, statistical records indicated that Delta State had a high percentage of malnourished adolescents, adding that this necessitated the introduction of the supplemental food programme meant to break what she termed “the generational cycle of malnourishment in the society”.

Onuora said, “In 2018, Katsina and Delta states rolled out strategies to intervene; and, in 2019 we were expected to scale-up to five states while in 2020 we were expected to scale up to 10 states. But here we are in Delta, just scaling up from three to six local government areas!

“The goal of the programme is to reduce anaemia prevalence and other diseases associated with it by 2040, particularly among the adolescents.

“Available statistics have shown that only about 19 per cent of adolescents eat healthy food while the remaining 81 per cent are malnourished in Nigeria”.

In her opening address, Dr. Isioma Okobah, Chairman, Delta Primary Health Care Development Agency (DSPHCDA), who also as chaired the occasion, and the Director-General of the agency, Dr. Jude Winful-Orieke, thanked UNICEF for the support, adding that the intervention was critical to addressing the problem of malnutrition among the adolescents in the state.

Dr. Okobah stated, “His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, is happy with the partnership as the programme will help the children to build resistance to diseases, and it is in line with the state government agenda of health-for-all.

“The adding of three new LGAs is a welcome development; we are hoping that UNICEF will take the programme to all the 25 LGAs in Delta State,” Okobah.

Dr. Winful-Orieke observed that the importance of intensified enlightenment involving both children school and those out of school could not be over-emphasised considering the fact that numerous first-time mothers in Nigeria, and Delta State in particular, are adolescents.

The stakeholders at the Asaba meeting, who called for increased advocacy to address issues of poor feeding in the country, included representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Federal Ministry of Health, principals and school-heads from the target area, senior officials of state ministries of health, education civil society organisations and traditional rulers, including HRM Ojeta II (Majoroh), the Ovie of Orua-Ivie Kingdom.

Nevertheless, the participants identified issues of insecurity, seasonal flooding, cultural stereotype, internet addiction and illiteracy as factors affecting the increasing cases of anaemia among adolescents arising from poor feeding habits among adolescents in Nigeria.

Ensuring food security will remain a difficult challenge especially in the light of prevailing levels of insecurity in the country as well as perennial flooding in certain areas, they posited, saying that the two problems posed serious threats to adequate food production and nutrition.