In recent months, the world has been faced with the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), now declared a world-wide emergency. As at 24th April 2020, the world has recorded 2,709,483 cases and 190,872 deaths. Nigeria, recorded its first case on 27th February 2020 and has since, seen a steady rise in number of confirmed cases. Today, Nigeria has a total of 981 cases with 31 deaths in more than 20 states including the Federal Capital Territory.
The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential, not only to cause thousands of deaths as seen globally but, to also unleash morbidity and economic crisis, posing unprecedented challenges to food systems in Nigeria and elsewhere. This virus could invariably have lasting effects on people, their nutrition, healthcare, and food systems across the globe.
CS-SUNN commends the Federal Government, so far for coming up with preventive, containment and recovery measures since the outbreak of the virus in the country. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Presidential Task force on COVID-19, the Federal Ministry of Health and all relevant bodies and agencies have, so far, worked out and are implementing a National Response Strategy to tackle the menace. This has seen Nigeria achieve some positive results in the containment of the virus; the successful treatment and recovery of 197 patients in the country.
With the country’s current childhood under-nutrition indicator put at 37% stunting, 7% wasting and 23% underweight (National Demographic and Health Survey, 2018) and about 2.6 million children under the age of five threatened by malnutrition (2018 Nigeria Nutrition Health Survey), CS-SUNN foresees an increase in these indicators during and after this COVID-19 Pandemic, if government does not beam its focus on continued fight against malnutrition. The alliance recalls the forecast by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) before the COVID-19 outbreak that about 7 million Nigerians in 16 Northern States plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would be in food and nutrition crisis between June and August 2020. CS-SUNN fears that affected persons might outnumber the FAO prediction at the end of the COVID-19 crisis.
Governments, businesses, civil society and international agencies need to take urgent and coordinated action to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic turning into a global food and humanitarian crisis. CS-SUNN advises that in the rush to stall the spread of COVID-19, Nigeria should consider the disastrous increases in malnutrition in both the immediate and long term. Communities, vulnerable groups especially women dealing with malnutrition and children suffering Severe Acute Malnutrition, are more likely to be affected because of the pandemic. Since malnutrition weakens the immune system, these populations are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19.
CS-SUNN further notes that the spread of COVID-19, with attendant measures put in place by government to curb it, is now threatening many Nigerians already made vulnerable by food and nutrition insecurity, malnutrition and the effects of conflict and other disasters. There is a “hunger virus” that is slowly ravaging the most vulnerable groups in the country. Though Nigeria, like all other nations of the world, is navigating uncertain times, there is urgent need for governments, at all levels, to prioritize nutrition in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. The alliance restates that adequate nutrition is key to building immunity, protection against illness and infection, and supporting recovery from illnesses. Efforts to preserve and promote adequate nutrition, including Exclusive breastfeeding, must be part of COVID-19 prevention strategies to build the resilience of individuals and communities in Nigeria. Healthy and adequate diets are key for boosting immunity and preventing non-communicable diseases that are risk factors for higher COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. Protecting the poor and most vulnerable from hunger and malnutrition will be necessary for COVID-19 response efforts to succeed in Nigeria.
PRACTICAL ACTIONS FOR KEEPING NUTRITION AT THE CENTER OF FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY EFFORTS IN NIGERIA:
- Integration of Nutrition Specific and Nutrition Sensitive interventions in Nigeria’s COVID-19 response by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
- The PTF employ a multi-stakeholder and multi-Sectoral approach towards combating the pandemic with focus on improving the nutritional status of Nigerians especially the vulnerable members of the society.
- Implementation of Social protection measures for the poor and most marginalized including refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. The poor and most marginalized are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and must be supported to protect themselves from the virus and to stay resilient throughout the crisis and after.
- Sustain the functioning of local food systems in Nigeria. The alliance calls on governments, at National and sub-national levels, to support small scale farmers, small and medium sized enterprises as well as local Civil Society Organizations to continue to produce and deliver affordable, adequate, safe and nutritious foods and to minimize the impact of lock-downs and quarantines on planting, harvesting, food processing and access to markets for suppliers and consumers.
- Ensure adequate domestic funding for nutrition programmes and interventions as captured in the 2020 annual budgets at the national and sub-national levels. CS-SUNN commends state governments like; Lagos, Kano, Niger, Kaduna, and Nasarawa, who have made provision in the 2020 budget for nutrition, and ask that they release same on time. This is to ensure continuity in the fight against malnutrition and to mitigate the burden of malnutrition in the country. States run the risk of increased burden of malnutrition if they allow the emergency situation of COVID-19 stop them from funding and implementing nutrition programs and interventions in the country.
CS-SUNN enjoins Nigerians to continue to consume adequate diets to boost their immunity and support recovery of those infected by the virus. The alliance enjoins the general public to stay safe, avoid dispersing fake news on the outbreak and wash their hands frequently. The public should also maintain social distancing, practice respiratory hygiene when they sneeze or cough and seek medical care immediately, they come down with any of the symptoms of the virus. Nigerians should maintain and observe the restriction on movements directive by the government as this is key to prevent further spread of the virus.