Indonesia's Widodo renews war against 'stunting'

Seeks to expand first-term efforts to slash chronic child hunger by cutting it another 14 percent in next five years
Indonesia's Widodo renews war against 'stunting'

In this photo, Sitti Hikmawatty (right), coordinator of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission’s Health Desk, visits a poor mother of three whose baby drinks milk only once a day. President Joko Widodo has made a commitment to reduce the prevalence of stunting by 14 percent by the end of 2024. (Photo supplied by Sitti Hikmawatty)

 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has vowed to cut the prevalence of stunting, or chronic hunger, in the Muslim majority nation by at least 14 percent in the next five years. 

He said he wants to increase efforts to reduce the prevalence of stunting that began when he first became president in 2014 so as to “improve human resources.”

Stunting is impaired growth and development that children experience as a result of poor nutrition.

During his first term the prevalence of stunting fell to just under 30 percent from 37.2 percent in 2013, when just over one in three Indonesian children under five suffered from chronic malnutrition, according to a Health Ministry study in 2018.

“Five years ago, the figure was 37 percent. It was huge. But we managed to cut it down to 28 percent. It remains high though,” Widodo said during a meeting with health and child welfare officials at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Dec. 16.

“Our target for the next five years is to reduce the prevalence by 14 percent,” he added.

He called on all local governments to help achieve the goal.

The president said the distribution of free food such as milk, sweet mung bean porridge and boiled eggs to schoolchildren will be one of several approaches adopted. 

“Milk should be distributed to schoolchildren every Saturday. It is cheap, but we must do this. I remember I was given free boiled eggs when I was a student...This is what we must do as part of our effort to develop human resources,” he said.

“The World Bank says that 54 percent of our current human resources were stunted children. I do not want this to happen anymore. In the future, our human resources must be free from stunting,” he said.

If Widodo is successful it would bring Indonesia into line with the World Health Organization’s call to reduce the prevalence of stunting in the country to under 20 percent.

Sitti Hikmawatty, coordinator of the Indonesian Child Protection Commission’s Health Desk, told ucanews that a Health Ministry study in 2017 revealed that only two out of 34 provinces in Indonesia had a prevalence figure of 20 percent, namely Yogyakarta and Bali. 

The predominantly Catholic province of East Nusa Tenggara ranked highest with 40.4 percent.

Welcoming Widodo’s call she said, “One of our recommendations is to make stunting a national issue which must be dealt with together by related ministries and government institutions.”

Ana Waha Kolin, a member of East Nusa Tenggara’s legislative body and a Catholic, said efforts to address the issue should be from across the board.

“Cooperation from all stakeholders is needed, not only from governments. Mothers, for example, should be actively involved in this goal,” she told ucanews.

According to her, East Nusa Tenggara has launched an integrated program a few years ago to reduce the prevalence of stunting in the province. 

“We focus on villages with a high prevalence. We distribute food to schoolchildren and provide villagers with clean water and sanitation,” she said.

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