The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the number of undernourished adolescent
girls and women in Nigeria aged 15 to 49 years increased from 5.6 million in 2018 to 7.3 million in 2021.
The organisation made this known in a statement on Tuesday, ahead of the March 8 International Women’s Day (IWD).
IWD is annually celebrated as a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights and violence and abuse against women.
UNICEF said that the figure is contained in a new global report titled “Undernourished and Overlooked: A Global Nutrition Crisis in Adolescent Girls and Women.”
The report cautions that the ongoing crises, aggravated by unending gender inequality, is deepening nutrition crisis among adolescent girls and women who hitherto show little improvement in the last two decades.
It added that “Nigeria is among the 12 hardest hit countries by the global food and nutrition crisis, while the other countries were Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.
“All 12 countries represent the epicentre of global nutrition crisis that had been increased by recent impact of COVID-19, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and ongoing drought, conflict and instability in some countries.”
UNICEF further said that an unprecedented and comprehensive look at the state of adolescent girls’ and women’s nutrition
globally, showed that more than one billion adolescent girls and women suffer from undernutrition, including underweight and short height.
“They also suffer from deficiencies in essential micronutrients and anaemia; in Nigeria, 55 per cent of adolescent girls
and women suffer from anaemia while nearly half of Nigerian women of reproductive age do not consume the recommended diet of at least five out of 10 food groups.
“Food groups such as grains and tubers, pulses, nuts and seeds, dairy, meat, poultry and fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables,
other vitamin A rich fruits and vegetables, other vegetables and other fruits according to the 2022 National Food Consumption and Micronutrient Survey.”
It noted that inadequate nutrition during girls’ and women’s lives could lead to weakened immunity, poor cognitive development, and an increased risk of life-threatening complications.
The report added that the complications included risking mothers’ lives during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as dangerous and irreversible consequences for their children’s survival, growth, learning and future earning capacity.
“For example, in Nigeria, 12 million children under five years are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age due to malnutrition.
“Of those, about half become stunted during pregnancy and the first six months of life, the 500-day period when a child
is fully dependent on maternal nutrition.”
UNICEF also said that global crises continue to disproportionately disrupt women’s access to nutritious food.
It stated that in 2021, there were 126 million more food insecure women than men, compared to 49 million in 2019, adding that “in Nigeria, the 2022 Cadre Harmonise analysis published by government shows that 17 million Nigerians are suffering from acute food insecurity and this is likely to increase to 25 million in lean season this year (FMARD, 2022).
“Since last year, UNICEF has scaled up its efforts in the countries hardest hit by the global nutrition crisis, including in Nigeria,
with an acceleration plan to prevent, detect and treat wasting in women and children.”
Meanwhile, UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine Russell, said nutrition crisis was pushing millions of mothers and their children into hunger and severe malnutrition.
According to her, without urgent action from the international community, the consequences can last for generations to come.
She suggested that “to ensure a better future for our children, we must prioritise the access of adolescent girls and women to nutritious foods and essential nutrition services.
“The nutrition crisis is deepening among them and urgent action is needed from all partners, including the government of Nigeria and the international community.”
Similarly, Cristian Munduate, the UNICEF Country Representative in Nigeria, said the country could not afford to overlook the crisis.
She said “we must work together to transform food, health and social protection systems for adolescent girls and women.”
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the 2023 International Women’s Day has “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality” as its theme.
The purpose of the day is to uphold women’s achievements, recognise challenges, and focus greater attention on women’s rights. (NAN)(www.nannews.ng)