The Jakarta Post
A visit to Pirngadi Hospital in Medan, North Sumatra, shows that malnourishment is still a grave concern in Indonesia.
So far this year, five undernourished children were submitted to the hospital. One died recently.
“Most of the families of undernourished children were in the low-income bracket,” said the hospital’s spokesman, Edison Perangin-angin.
Low-income families in the country do not have adequate access to food and appropriate dietary habits, resulting in severe micronutrient deficiencies in children.
The 2010 Basic Health Research (Riskesdas) noted that the prevalence of under nutrition among children under five years old reached 17.9 percent in 2010 while those who were malnourished for the same age group was 4.9 percent.
In the 2015 MDGs targets, the prevalence of those who are undernourished is targeted to reach less than 15 percent, with the malnourished prevalence target at 3.5 percent.
Uken Soetrisno, a nutrition expert at Bogor Agricultural Institute, said that children under five especially from low-income families were susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies such as in Vitamin A and B, iron (Fe), Zinc, and Iodium.
“It is sometimes difficult to ensure that children receive vitamin and mineral supplements,” she said.
In some cases, undernutrition is not only a phenomenon in low-income families but also victims of less knowledgeable parents.
Jambi municipality administration recorded that at least 13 children of more than one hundred cases last year in the region came from middle-income families.
“Our observation concluded that their parents did not pay attention to the children’s diet,” said the municipality’s Health Agency head, Irawati Sukandar.
She said the parents often neglected their children’s meal schedules.
The central government has tried to simplify the procedure of providing extra nutrients by producing a micronutrient powder called Taburia that is designed to restore vitamin and mineral deficiencies in children.
After conducting an efficacy study in North Jakarta over several years, the government, with the support of the World Bank, distributed Taburia to more than 50,000 children under a pioneer activity in 2009 through community health posts (Posyandu).
Parents can easily give Taburia to their children by simply blending the powder into their children
meals such as porridge, milk, puddings and rice.
It is part of the Nutrition Improvement through Community Empowerment (NICE) program, which is being carried out over five years from 2008 to 2012.
In 2010, the government distributed Taburia to children aged 6-24 months in nine regencies only.
The government will distribute Taburia to 633,881 children under five in 2011, showing a significant increase from 90,727 in 2010 and 53,333 in 2009.
The efficacy study carried out by the ministry’s group, which was tasked with evaluating the Taburia medical effectiveness, concluded that micronutrient enrichment at home was one of the most effective ways to cure vitamin and mineral deficiencies in quite a short period.
Minarto, Community Nutrition director at the Health Ministry, said recently that in 2011 the government would distribute Taburia for children under five years old living in 24 regencies and municipalities at six selected provinces, as part of its effort to combat the country’s micronutrient deficiency.
“We will distribute for free Taburia micronutrients powder to low-income families with children aged between 6 to 24 months this year,” he told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of a discussion on nutrition.
After the pioneering efforts, low-income families should buy Taburia at the affordable price of Rp 500 (less than 1 US cent) per sachet.
Taburia is just one nutrient technology intervention developed by the ministry to tackle micronutrient deficiencies hampering children under five from low-income families.
Senior director of the Nutrition Program for the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Regina Moench-Pfanner, said micronutrient malnutrition could be prevented by consuming a balanced diet.
However, not all people could ensure consuming adequate nutritious food in their daily food intake. Many people from low-income families cannot afford adequate food and therefore cannot form important dietary habits.
“They cannot buy extra food and have a good quality diet. They often lack necessary vitamins or minerals, which will negatively affect their productivity such as iron deficiencies, which significantly impact on energy levels,” she told The Jakarta Post, adding that death can result from severe iron deficiency.
In this regard, Regina said, food enrichment including through micronutrient powder consumption, had an advantage in delivering nutrients to a large population as it ensured families do not have to make radical changes to their eating habits. She also said it was not too costly. (ebf)
Jon Afrizal from Jambi also contributed to this report.