The Coronavirus pandemic that ravaged the world has crippled businesses and economic activities, compounding problems for households across Nigeria.
In Bauchi State where indices of development remain at their lowest ebb, the pandemic has imperiled households and further depleted their financial standings.
Investigation by Bauchi based online Newspaper, Wikkitimes revealed that the health care sector which hitherto the pandemic was marred by poor budget releases across its continuum suffered yet another setback.
Bauchi State which has the highest number of malnourished children in the north east of Nigeria continues to lag behind in its efforts to address the scourge of malnutrition.
For instance, the out of stock of Ready to Use Theuraphetic Food (RUTF) being experienced in some local governments in the state had an adverse effect on children’s healing process from the dungeon of the killer disease.
Many children who were admitted for treatment could not get the commodity as at when due.
The stock out of the essential commodity in many local governments, our correspondent gathered was due to the inability of some nutrition officers to convey the commodity for onward distribution to the malnourished children.
Investigation by our correspondent unearthed that most of the victims suffering from malnutrition are under five years ‘who are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow.’
Mr. Ishola Michael, a member of Bauchi State Public Health Media Network who visited some local governments in the state during a media tour told our correspondent that “I nearly shed tears.”
“The situation is very pathetic, I shed tears in Darazo; the stockout of the RTUF is the major problem exacerbating the problem of malnutrition in Bauchi State coupled with lack of political will”, he said.
Michael argued that although the state government is trying to encourage LGAs to take ownership of the fight against malnutrition, lack of political will by the LGs’ malnutrition officers was part of the problem militating against its fight.
“The LG malnutrition officer in Gamawa needed only N20,000 to transport the RUTF, it took the LGA one month to raise the money”, Mr. Ishola lamented.
Ishola said about 21 children have died in Bauchi, Darazo, Kirfi, Gamawa, Katagum, Warji, Tafawa Balewa and Itas Gidau LGAs from January to August as a result of lack of supply of the RUTF.
Experts believe that severe acute malnutrition like other health emergencies can dramatically increase during periods of emergencies, most especially now that the world is battling the coronavirus pandemic.
Mrs Comfort Attah, of Attah Sisters’ Helping Hands Foundation, an NGO based in Bauchi says “the covid-19 pandemic has affected many other health programs, forcing governments to redirect funds to fighting the COVID-19, pandemic”, which she says had inversely affected the fight against malnutrition in Bauchi.
“And the implication is that we have seen an increase in the number of children that are dying as a result of severe acute malnutrition.
“Any time there is delay in RUTF in the state, the health of children continues to suffer and the result is always dead”, Mrs Attah regretted.
Mrs. Abigail Hardo, Executive Director, Aid Connect for Development argued the COVID-19 pandemic has increased mortality rate among children suffering from SAM because of “Stock out of RUTF at CMAM centres.”
She said the reduction of the financial muscles of governments at all levels have affected budget releases across the health care sector.
Our correspondent reports that a severely malnourished Hajara Muhammadu and her mother, Zainab Muhammadu who were at a centre in Kifri LGA to get the RUTF could not have access to the commodity despite the severity of the ailment that was evident in the innocent Hajara.
The two-year-old Hajara could neither sit nor stand on her own, leaving the mother with the burden of carrying her at all times.
When her mother removed her cloth on request by reporters who wanted to See how she was devastatingly hit by SAM, it was very difficult for most reporters to withstand the gory parts of Hajara’s body.
The feeblest looking Hajara is one out of many children that are hit hard by the scourge of malnutrition in Bauchi State.
Although Hajara’s mother was hopeful that coming to the RUTF centre in her LGA would accord her the opportunity to obtain the commodity, her hope was dashed as she was told that the RUTF was not available.
Each week, mothers of malnourished children in Bauchi State trek long distances to CMAM centres but end up getting disappointed as they journey back home without the commodity.
This medium gathered that such circumstances had affected thousands of children with severe acute malnutrition in the state, as about 9 LGAs in Bauchi were unable to transport their portions of RUTF to local centres where patients could access them.
Ado Muhammadu Manga, Officer in charge of nutrition and routine immunization at Kirfi PHC, said the State Primary Healthcare Agency has procured the RUTF commodity, and 150 cartons were allocated to the centre, but lack of mobility posed a challenge to transport the commodity from Bauchi.
Manga said the challenge had hindered their efforts to support patients in their recovery process.
He added that as of the time of the visit to the facility, the Local Government nutrition officer had not been able to go to Bauchi to convey the RUTF meant for the area.
“Even yesterday we talked about what we have on ground, our nutrition focal person was expected to go and convey it to the center, but he has not done that and we don’t know the reason why”, Manga said.
Although Bauchi State like its peers in other parts of the country didn’t impose total lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the inability of the local government officials to adequately distribute the Ready to Use theuraphetic food has affected the likes of Hajara and many other kids in the State.
Sadly though; mothers had to watch their children grow lean and risk dying as stock out of the Ready to Use Theurephetic Food continued to become the norm.
Relapsed in treatment across many LGAs in the state is evident, as most of the local actors failed to do their work of conveying the commodity despite its availability at the State level.
Our investigation revealed that mothers of malnourished children in Bauchi out of ignorance spent thousands of naira seeking solutions from local herbalists for about two years, a move that seems not to be working as many children continue to die.
The Executive Chairman, Bauchi State Primary Health Care Agency Dr Rilwanu Mohammed said in a telephone conversation that the RUTF has been in the agency’s store for three weeks awaiting collection by local governments.
Dr. Rilwanu said the attitude of some local governments was of great concern to the eradication of malnutrition in the state.
He said the State must find a way to address the situation to convey the commodities from Bauchi to the CMAM centers.
Mohammed said that the RUTF was supplied by the state government through UNICEF following the payment of N20million as counterpart funds by the Bauchi State Government earlier in the year.
He expressed optimism that before the present supply runs out, more funds will be released by the State government in order to procure the commodity.
But lack of political will by administrators of Local Government Councils in Bauchi State to tackle hunger, as argued by Mr. Ishola Michael, continue to pose major challenges on progress made so far in the fight against Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM).