There has been a rise in the incidence of malnutrition in Nigeria in the last six months due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and also to the protocol around its control, including the interstate lockdown and directives on the restriction of movement.
Medical and Nutrition experts stated this while speaking at the Protein Challenge Webinar Series 4 which held via ZOOM on Thursday, September 24, 2020. The webinar was themed: Protein Deficiency in a Pandemic.
Dr. Monica Omo-Irefo, a medical practitioner and principal health officer, said that the current state of malnutrition in the country is on the rise, exacerbated by the lockdown. She said: “Malnutrition results from a diet in which one or more nutrients are either insufficient, or excessive to the body’s needs, such that the diet causes health problems. With the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions that have been put in place to reduce the spread of the virus, there has been a decrease in access to food.”
She explained that the levels of protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) will likely continue to increase as men, women and children are vulnerable to both the coronavirus disease and nutrient deficiencies.
Dr. Omo-Irefo stated that, to remedy this condition, the amount of protein in the child’s diet must be increased. “The use of kwash-pap, a blend of soybeans, groundnuts, locust beans and pap (ogi), is an effective way to reduce the symptoms of kwashiorkor in a malnourished child”, she said.
Dr. Beatrice Oganah Ikujenyo (PhD), a seasoned nutritionist and Chief Lecturer, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, stated that having a proper meal plan and nutrition education is crucial to lessening malnutrition.
According to her, “Nutrition education is important because knowing what foods to eat, which meal is cost-effective and healthy, is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, especially in a country like Nigeria. Protein deficiency is prevalent in the nation because of accessibility, availability and affordability of food items, including protein sources.”
She added: “We need to go back to the days when families cultivated lands for food crops so that this will reduce the pressure on the available foods for sale in the markets. Everyone must not chase after the same food items, especially in times of scarcity, as it occurred during the pandemic.
“There are some locally available and under-exploited foods in our environment. These include soybeans, sesame seeds, locust beans, Bambara groundnuts, melon seeds, pigeon peas, and so on. Leafy green vegetables and fruits like garden eggs, cucumber, ube, water leaves, mint leaves, spinach, shoko, ewedu are good sources of nutrients that are also beneficial to the body.”
Another panelist, Dr. Adepeju Adeniran, an experienced clinician and public health expert, stated: “We need to implement policies to ease the journey of food crops, especially protein-rich food crops, from the farmlands to the consumers.
“Both animal and plant protein sources are important dietary components of food, but animal proteins take a longer time to produce, as human beings consume mostly the adult form of animal proteins.”
She explained that “Even dairy and eggs can only be produced by adult animals, which must have time to grow and develop. However, during the long-time factor of production, it is pragmatic to combine both animal and plant protein sources for a better diet.”
She concluded that post-COVID-19, Nigerians must implement policies to alleviate protein deficiency and equip individuals and farmers with more nutrition and agriculture information, both locally and nationally.
The webinar was moderated by Dr Ndubisi Obasi, a Resident Medical Officer, Brighton Nuffield Hospital, United Kingdom.