By Reginald Onabu
The year 2020 was an unusual one in every sense of the word. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic made sure of this. To remove any doubt about the threat that the virus posed to every country in the world, the World Health Organisations (WHO) recognised the COVID-19 as a global pandemic.
Today, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic is global. There is hardly anyone who has not been affected by the pandemic to some degree. In a country like Nigeria, it has precipitated mental, emotional, social, business-related and financial impact.
Nigeria is home to over 230 million people, the bulk of whom are young. While the country has experienced relatively small numbers of COVID-19 deaths, the resurgence of a second wave is a cause for concern. Another cause for concern is the growing incidence of severe poverty and malnutrition. About 40 per cent of the nation’s population continues to live on less than $1.90 US dollars a day.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently released a poverty and inequality report which highlighted that over 83 million Nigerians are extremely poor. This report, which is a basis for measuring poverty and living standards in the country, is used to estimate a wide range of socio-economic indicators, including benchmarking of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Indeed, many children and families still lack access to affordable nutritious foods. This often results in a lack of essential nutrients in their daily diet, which can lead to severe malnutrition and protein deficiency. Protein deficiency is a negative nutritional condition produced by a deficiency of proteins in the body.
Experts indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn will probably further aggravate these issues.
In many ways, the pandemic seems to have helped to shed light on what is really important in the world today, and that is good health.
Evidently, an essential ingredient of good health is good and affordable nutrition. As the year 2021 progresses, Nigeria needs to tackle the challenge of malnutrition and protein deficiency, coupled with the pandemic.
To achieve this, some key solutions must be implemented and adapted to suit the needs of the average Nigerian. This requires a significant level of expertise and insight on the poverty and malnutrition problem in the country.
First, the government needs to deal with the malnutrition problem directly. This can be done by reducing the price of healthy food crops nationwide, reducing the cost of seedlings and arable crops being sold to farmers, thereby increasing the affordability and accessibility of agricultural inputs. This will increase food availability to a large extent, which will curb malnutrition.
The government should also implement agricultural development projects (ADPs) across Nigeria. These agricultural development projects will play a facilitating role in the production of crops, livestock, and aquaculture. For the vast majority of Nigerians, food production and agriculture must be embedded and promoted in every community to increase food availability and accessibility. The government has a responsibility to provide safe, affordable and nutritious food crops to the populace to mitigate the levels of hunger and starvation in the nation.
Secondly, the government needs to make health care affordable by creating more hospitals and health centres in the north eastern states with high malnutrition rates, while sustaining ongoing health programmes such as the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and the Food and Drug Programme (FDP).
The government can liaise with foreign health organisations like the World Health Organisation and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to provide quality healthcare to malnourished children and individuals.
Of course, there must be sensitization and awareness campaigns in rural communities on dietary changes, eating of fortified foods that contain valuable nutrients, and locally available food sources that are healthy and nutritious. Foods like soybeans, awara, bambara, okpa, groundnuts, and egusi are rich in nutrients that nourish the body.
Finally, non-governmental organisations can visit villages and communities to provide local food options and to educate malnourished locals on eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Nigeria has the potential to surmount all the aforementioned difficulties if these solutions can be properly and effectively implemented.
The key is proper planning.