Villagers Being Enlisted in Fight Against Infant Stunting
Santi Sri Wulandari has heard her fair share of folk legends and advice after working in East Nusa Tenggara for almost three years.
“There are myths that mothers can’t eat this, this or this during pregnancy,” Santi said, speaking about rural areas.
“For example, in some places they still believe the mother should not eat bananas because the baby will be big and it will be hard to deliver the baby. And malnourishment starts there.”
Santi works for CARE Indonesia in a community development public health program in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), focusing on promoting and supporting proper infant and young child feeding practices as well as healthy eating practices for mothers during pregnancy.
Almost four out of 10 children under the age of 5 are stunted in Indonesia, according to the Ministry of Health’s 2010 basic health research report (Riskesdas).
Unicef Indonesia, with support from the European Union, is providing regional training for health professionals this week in Jakarta to help strengthen Indonesia’s ability to provide counseling on infant and young child feeding practices to reduce high levels of stunting.
As part of the maternal and young child nutrition security initiative in Asia, 21 participants from Indonesia, East Timor and Bangladesh will be trained in Jakarta so they in turn can train others, including health workers and community volunteers, to serve as counselors to expecting families.
In NTT, where Santi works, stunting affects almost six out of 10 children.
“Young infants and children, between zero and 24 months, it’s a golden period where brain growth and development occurs, so that’s why we focus on that,” she said from the conference.
Many factors, including a climate prone to drought and “local wisdom,” have contributed to the high rate of stunting in NTT. Almost 100,000 people there are currently facing a food crisis due to drought.
Unicef hopes to train two community members in every health service post in selected districts of NTT, Papua and Central Java, where the stunting rates are higher than the national average of 36.8 percent. The EU has pledged 4.2 million euros ($5.74 million) to the program over four years.
“The most effective way to reduce stunting is complementary feeding,” said Sonia Blaney, a Unicef nutrition specialist. “Both complementary feeding and breast-feeding are the most effective intervention to reduce childhood mortality.”
After six months of exclusive breast-feeding, infants need complementary feeding — an appropriate number of meals from a variety of food groups.
“The issues of irreversible damage from stunting need to be exposed because people don’t think about these things” said Sri Sukotjo, a Unicef nutrition specialist.
Studies have shown that stunting leads to lower productivity, IQ, income and education levels in adulthood.
Serving 23 villages and approximately 34,000 people, Santi has helped train 140 community members including mothers, fathers and religious leaders, giving them the skills to advise others.
“The ratio between health professionals and the community we need to serve, it’s too big,” Santi said. “People always think health is a doctor, a midwife or a nurse business. This is all of our business.”