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Improving Nutritional Status of infant and pregnant women in Bassa Community, Abuja

Bukola Afeni

Four-month-old Yusuf Abdullahi was diagnosed with malnourishment during a   weekly postnatal visit by the mother to a primary healthcare facility in Bassa, a community of about 5000 residents close to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. His mum, Khadija Abdullahi, had not paid special attention to his nutrition when she was pregnant and to the infant after delivery.

“I give my son breast milk and water, and any other food that we cook in the house,” the mother said. “I had five children before giving birth to Yusuf, and I have passed through the same process for all of them.” 

An official at the primary healthcare center said tens of children in the community suffer from acute malnutrition and need urgent medical help. 
A study published in the Lancet Global Health led by the Global Alliance For Improved Nutrition through the USAID Advancing Nutrition Project suggested that over 1 in 2 children under the age of five, and 2 in 3 women between the ages 15–49 worldwide are deficient in at least one micronutrient.

In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, 9 in 10 women are deficient largely due to poor diet.

The village head in Bassa, Alhassan Yusuf, said  some community leaders have been working with the nurses at the primary health centers to educate mothers about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

But not all pregnant women who attended antenatal clinics took the advice given, said Ruth Davis, herself a mother. 

“I noticed that some infant children in this community are struggling with diseases which are due to poor feeding,” Davis said.  “At times when we come for weekly antenatal visits the nurse keeps hammering mothers to consume balanced diets while pregnant, but leaving the premises they tend to do the opposite of what the health care workers trained us.” 

The Global Nutrition Report showed that progress has been made towards achieving the exclusive breastfeeding target, with 28.7% of infants aged 0 to 5 months exclusively breastfed.

Similarly, Nigeria has made some progress towards achieving the target  for stunting. 

The facility health mobilizer in the community, Mr. Joshua Zaki, said the healthcare workers have been sensitizing the mothers in the community about the importance of nutrition.

“We have been trying our best to sensitize mothers and ensure that malnutrition is reduced drastically in the community,” Zaki said. “We Have been engaging with mothers to sensitize them about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

“The major challenge we have in the primary health care center is that there is no potable water in the facility. It is essential for mothers and infants’ children to have access to a good source of water during antenatal or delivery. This is one of the major challenges. The borehole that was dug by the European Union four years ago is no longer functioning. It only worked for two years”, he added.

A nurse at a Primary Health Care Centre in Nyanya, Abuja, Chioma Ikechukwu said it is essential for mothers to consume balanced diets while they are pregnant, and also practice exclusive breastfeeding after delivery

” Malnutrition in children can arise due to some mothers ignoring basic antenatal tips about feeding and lactation,” Ikechukwu told our reporter“. This usually affects the infant child and may lead to malnutrition. Pregnant women need to take food supplements and engage in timely checks of mothers and the child in the womb.

“Even when the children come out of the womb, it is important for the mothers to give their child goods that are rich in all classes of food. Malnourished children can also be given carbohydrates, vitamins, protein, soya beans, and small quantities of crayfish. Since infant children cannot consume solid food, it is important to give them pap, and other condiments like soya beans and crayfish, because it contains soya beans which are good for the growth of the infant.” 

The president of the Abuja chapter of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria  Dr. Florence Uchendu added that to reduce malnutrition among infants, babies must be exclusively breastfed.

Dr. Uchendu said breastmilk is the first immunization given to a baby especially within one hour after birth and urged mothers not to throw the milk away because it is dirty and dangerous for their babies.

” The first  milk that comes out is yellow. It Is called colostrum and is very rich in immunoglobulins, which immunizes the baby by improving the immune system,” Uchendu explained.

“The baby should be given breast milk only for the 1st 6 months of life without water or any other liquid. This is because it contains enough water the baby needs until 6 months old. “After 6 months the baby should continue with breast milk and family meals. The baby should be given breast milk when he/she is 2 years old. “Mothers should feed the baby with breast milk, water, and appropriate complimentary meals rich in proteins such as milk, beans, eggs, meat, fish, moi-moi, akara; fruits and vegetables & carbohydrates. Mixed meals like pap and milk, rice and beans, and mashed yam/potatoes will be rich in nutrients for the baby. These meals will help the mother wean the baby without sickness”, she added.

She, however, said the available statistics are not encouraging, and that there is a need for all stakeholders both at the state and national levels to intensify efforts to change the narrative in the country.

“About 37% of children are stunted in Nigeria, and the statistics are not really encouraging. Wasting occurs when a baby’s weight is too low for his/her height. The baby is too thin for his height, and there is a failure to gain weight or rapid weight loss,” Dr. Uchendu said. 

“Seven (7%) percent of children in Nigeria are wasted. Underweight is another situation when the baby’s weight is too low for their age. About 22% of children in Nigeria are underweight according to the Nigerian Demographic Health Survey, 2018. These high malnutrition indices among Nigerian young children should be a source of concern for all the stakeholders in the country. Only 29% of children in Nigeria are breastfed.”

The nutritionist also advised mothers to always be on the lookout for signs of undernourishment in infants.

She said: “Some cases of malnourished children could have been averted if the mother has taken enough actions to prevent malnutrition of the child right from when she is pregnant. Notable signs to watch out for in malnourished children include constant sickness, weakness, being pale, fairness, fluffy hair, and stunting.

“Other preventive measures that can also be taken to reduce the rate of malnutrition include; ensuring appropriate foods should be kept in the house after delivery. Lactating mother should eat foods such as hot yam pepper soup with local spices, pap with enough milk, with no sugar, pounded yam with pepper soup with blackfish, and drink warm water.

“Breastfeeding mothers should wear appropriate blouses that will allow them to freely breastfeed their baby wherever she is. Husbands, mothers-in-law, grandmothers, friends, neighbors, and employers should encourage and support pregnant women and those who just delivered to exclusively breastfeed their babies.”

Yusuf said leaders in the community will double down on their efforts to sensitize pregnant on the need to eat balanced during pregnancy. 

“We will continue to sensitize and inform pregnant and aspiring mothers about the importance of nutrition and how it contributes to national development. The ultimate goal is to eliminate malnutrition in the community,” he said.

This story was supported by the African Data Hub Community Journalism Fellowship Program

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