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Nigeria: a step towards scaling up nutrition

When I wrote in October about the drugs endowment by a community leader for the treatment of malnourished children in Zamfara State, the intention was to show how we started advocating for improved nutrition funding through traditional institutions that have realised the significance of nutrition intervention for children in their communities.

We publicised the drugs donation in the local media, quoting community leaders stressing the need for government investment to the sector.

This happened concurrently with the efforts of our advocacy group, which held series of meetings with the policy-makers to increase funding for nutrition in the 2013 budget.

The most important step towards ensuring sustainable investment in nutrition from the state government is to create a specific budget allocation for it. We advocated for it and have just secured the commitment of the state government to allocate the sum of 20 million naira for nutrition in 2013.

Amending the inflexible

The state’s budget seems to be like a template. It tries to fit tightly to its five-year macro budget (2010-2015), making it difficult to respond to the necessary changes, which require creating a new expenditure.

We got round these issues by employing the following strategies:

  1. Securing buy-in from all key persons involved in nutrition, primary healthcare, budget and planning, inside and outside the Ministry of Health.
  2. Supporting community leaders to present evidence of malnutrition challenges in their communities and the need for government intervention.
  3. Collaboration with the projects supporting nutrition intervention in the state.
  4. Communicating the huge resources committed to nutrition by donors in the state and the impact made so far.

How was nutrition funded before?

An analysis of the state’s health budget has shown that nutrition is invisible in the health budget. It’s always lumped with other Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) issues whose allocation is scanty.

In the 2012 budget for instance, the overall budget for MNCH activities stands at 85 million naira (US$531,000).

One of the activities included in the bump would automatically engulf 75 million naira, leaving nutrition, and everything else, with just 10 million naira (US$62,500).

A new challenge

One of the emerging challenges for the advocacy team in the state is the issue of timely release and full implementation of nutrition funds.

Despite the state’s acceptance to create the budget line as we demanded, the allocation earmarked for the year 2013 is still scanty, just 20 million naira (US$125, 000). A good start indeed!

Making the funds accessible for nutrition activities could be another difficulty. Nutrition still isn’t a department on its own, it’s under the Primary Health Care unit. Conflicting interests within the department may lead to diversion of some parts of the nutrition funds to another area not hitherto in the budget.

Experience has shown that a many approved expenditures in the previous budgets are not actualised.

This poses a fresh challenge to us as we begin to think whether the budget line can guarantee us sustainable increase in government investment to nutrition or not.

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