The Jakarta Post
Efforts to combat chronic and widespread malnutrition have started to bear fruit as the percentage of children under five who suffer from stunted growth experienced the first decline in five years.
Recent data from the Health Ministry show that the national stunting prevalence for children under five fell to 29.5 percent in 2015, after reaching 35.6 percent in 2010 and rising to 37.2 percent in 2013.
'It's a decline of more than 7 percentage points,' the ministry's public nutrition director, Doddy Izwardy, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
He said the government was on the right track with aggressive multi-sectoral intervention in the field.
First, the government targeted mothers, as stunting may occur during pregnancy and only show once the child is 2 years old.
Optimized infant growth depends on proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days of infants' development, including during gestation. During those 1,000 days, infants' brains grow 95 percent and the trunk of their bodies grows faster than anytime afterwards.
Therefore, the best way to prevent stunted growth is to ensure proper nutrition of the mother during pregnancy and of the child after birth.
'There has been progress in the field, and we measure the progress we make by monitoring mothers who breast-feed their babies in the first six months,' Doddy said.
The government has also been running an iron supplement (TTD) program, under which pregnant women are given tablets containing 60 mg of iron and 400 micro grams of folic acid aimed to prevent and alleviate anemia.
Doddy said the high prevalence of stunting in Indonesia also correlated with a high prevalence of anemia among pregnant women, with one in four pregnant women suffering from the condition.
Anemia during pregnancy can affect the growth of the fetus, which will lead to a low birth weight and bleeding during childbirth and is a risk factor for maternal and infant mortality.
'If a mother already chronically lacks energy [KEK] and is anemic, we can't let her child be stunted as well,' said Doddy.
After addressing the problems in the early stages of infancy, the government targeted malnutrition occurring after the babies are born, he explained.
In 2013, the government launched the national Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, which brings together a whole variety of key stakeholders ' from the government, civil society, donors, private companies, researchers and the UN ' in a collective effort to improve nutrition.
Nutritionist Marzuki Iskandar said the movement had significantly increased awareness among mothers on the importance of feeding their children nutritious food.
'So it's understandable that the stunting rate in Indonesia declined as public awareness increased,' he told the Post.
Doddy said the growing number of community health care posts, or Pos Pelayanan Terpadu (Posyandu), also contributed to the decline.
Doddy also pointed to initiatives that had helped improve the quality of Posyandu in Indonesia, citing a recently launched smartphone app called mPosyandu as an example.
The app allows Posyandu cadre to efficiently record health data of their communities.