The United Nations International Children Emergency Fund has called on the relevant authorities in Bayelsa State to tackle the problems of high infant mortality, under-age marriage, children’s malnutrition, among others, in the state.
The UNICEF Chief of Field Services, Dr. Annefrida Kisesa-Mkusa, expressed the concern in Yenagoa, the state capital, on Saturday, during the policy dialogue with state executive and legislature on ‘Investment in maternal nutrition and infant and young child feeding’.
The event was organised by the Bayelsa State Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning in collaboration with UNICEF.
Quoting recent data from the 2016/2017 published by the National Bureau of Statistics, Kisesa-Mkusa said the infant mortality in the state was still very high, noting that for every 1,000 babies born, almost 100 die before the age of five years.
She also said that over 10 per cent of female children in the state are married off before the age of 15.
The UNICEF boss said, “Available evidence shows that getting the right nutrients at the right time is critical, particularly during the first 1,000 days of life starting from conception to the child’s second birthday.
“Unfortunately, during the last decade, Bayelsa State has made little progress in improving the nutrition status of children and women as well as in other key child survival indicators.
“Three in 10 women deliver their babies at home and are not delivering their babies with assistance of skilled personnel. Bayelsa State has stagnated at this rate since 2007.
“One in five (18 per cent) of girls of between 15 and 19 years have begun child bearing. Three in 10 (29 per cent) babies born in Bayelsa State face the high risk of dying in their first month of life (27-28 days of birth).
“Infant mortality (probability of dying between birth and the first birthday) reduced from 102/1,000 in 2011 to 57/1,000 in 2016/2017, but it is still unacceptably high.
“Under 5 mortality in Bayelsa has been reduced from 178/1,000 to 95/1,000 live but this means that for every 1,000 babies born, almost 100 die before the age of five years. The average for the South-South region is 59. Bayelsa still carries the highest burden for this indicator.”
Kisesa-Mkusa added that seven in every 10 children of between 12 and 23 months had not received all the vaccinations recommended in the national schedule by second birthday including polio and measles.
She said that Bayelsa was the worst performing state in the region in terms of immunisation coverage, stressing that from 16 per cent in 2007, coverage was at 23.3 per cent in 2011 and in 2016/2017 was at 28.5 per cent.
In his remarks, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Ebitimitula Etebu, reiterated the effort of the government to ensure food security in the state.
He, however, identified fragmentation in budget planning as a major problem.
He stated that all must identify malnutrition as a national crisis and ensure that there be a functioning management system to take care of it and as such the fragmentation will no longer exist.
Etebu said the best his ministry could do was to intervene, which might not be enough, as there is a need to tackle the problem from the grassroots.
On his part, the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Dr. Ebi Joshua, said malnutrition in children is a global problem, especially in developing countries, noting that the state was doing its best to ameliorate the problem.
The commissioner said, “The government believes in this fact and has set out to adopt as well as implement plans at its terminal focus in governance. The government has consistently invested massively in the health sector which in turn calls for serious commitment from development partners especially the UNICEF.”
He, however, commended UNICEF’s consistency in supporting the state government towards providing for the citizens.