High Rates of Birth Defects in Nigeria Linked to Inadequate Maternal Healthcare and Nutrition, Declares Fadeela Mustapha Lawan

Busy Bee
Busy Bee October 31, 2023
Updated 2023/10/31 at 11:40 AM

The high prevalence of birth defects in Nigeria can be attributed to a combination of factors such as inadequate maternal healthcare, poor nutrition, and exposure to environmental toxins.

This not only has a long-lasting impact on the affected children and their families but also reflects deeper systemic problems including poverty, insufficient healthcare, and environmental pollution. Unless these fundamental issues are addressed, it is unlikely that there will be any improvement in the rate of birth defects.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria has an estimated prevalence of birth defects ranging from 12 to 20 per 1,000 live births. The states with the highest rates of these defects are Kano, Lagos, and Rivers, which also happen to have high levels of poverty and malnutrition. Several potential causes of these birth defects exist in Nigeria.

Poverty plays a major role, as it leads to inadequate nutrition and limited prenatal care. Exposure to environmental toxins like lead, mercury, and pesticides is another contributing factor. Genetic mutations can also result in birth defects, with certain ethnic groups in Nigeria being more susceptible to specific genetic conditions. Additionally, it has been found that certain infectious diseases can increase the risk of birth defects.

Children in Nigeria who are born with birth defects encounter various difficulties. They may encounter physical and cognitive disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, learning disorders, and communication difficulties. Additionally, these children may undergo social and economic hurdles, as they struggle to find employment or fully engage in society.

Moreover, families may face social stigmatization and discrimination due to their child’s condition. Poverty plays a significant role in the occurrence of birth defects in Nigeria. It contributes to malnourishment and inadequate access to medical assistance, both of which elevate the risk of birth defects.

Pregnant women in Nigeria often struggle to find nutritious food and exercise options. A report published in the Journal of Public Health reveals that more than 40% of Nigerian women fail to consume the recommended levels of essential nutrients like iron, folic acid, and calcium during pregnancy.

Moreover, many women lack access to suitable exercise facilities and safe areas to engage in physical activity.

Working strenuously and neglecting antenatal care can significantly heighten the likelihood of birth defects. Engaging in physically demanding tasks during pregnancy is known to amplify the risk of such defects, while receiving regular antenatal care is crucial in minimizing this risk. Antenatal care offers opportunities for identifying and managing any potential factors that may cause birth defects, such as infections or dietary deficiencies.

Moreover, certain foods consumed by expectant mothers can exacerbate the risk of birth defects. For instance, fish with high mercury levels, including swordfish and others, should be avoided as they can inflict damage to the brain and nervous system of developing babies. Refraining from alcohol and caffeine is equally important, as studies have linked them to an increased likelihood of birth defects.

Additionally, pregnant women should ensure they are obtaining adequate amounts of vital nutrients like folic acid and iron, as deficiencies in these nutrients can heighten the risk of birth defects.

To promote the prevention of birth defects, pregnant women are advised to consume a diverse range of nutritious foods. This includes incorporating fruits and vegetables, particularly those rich in folate like spinach, asparagus, and broccoli, as well as whole grains such as whole wheat bread and brown rice. Lean proteins like chicken, fish, and eggs, along with low-fat dairy products including milk, yogurt, and cheese, should also be included in their diet. Healthy fats found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil are recommended as well. Pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats.

In addition to practicing proper nutrition, pregnant women should ensure they get enough rest and engage in regular exercise. Engaging in exercise during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of birth defects and improve overall health. It is recommended for pregnant women to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day, such as walking or swimming.

Additionally, pregnant women should strive to acquire 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

In Nigeria, enhancing nutrition and exercise for pregnant women could be achieved by enhancing the availability of affordable and healthy food choices. One way to achieve this is by implementing initiatives like food stamps or subsidized produce markets.

Additionally, creating secure exercise facilities like community parks or walking trails would encourage more women to engage in the recommended level of physical activity during pregnancy. Although government endorsement and investment would be necessary, these measures have the potential to greatly enhance the well-being of pregnant women and their infants.

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