Ezra Sihite & Firdha Novialita
Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi gave a shocked expression when she was asked to comment on the death of 20 children caused by malnutrition in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB).
“Where did the data came from? I’m not aware, let me check first,” said Nafsiah prior to a meeting with House Commission IX, which oversees health matters, on Tuesday.
Data from the NTB Health Agency showed that there have been 507 cases of malnutrition this year and 20 children have died this month.
Nafsiah admitted that the malnutrition rate in the province has been high, but she said she couldn’t believe that 20 had died. The minister said she will follow up on the case.
The Ministry of Health says that it allocates Rp 700 billion ($78 million) annually to combat childhood malnutrition.
Meanwhile, an NGO has criticized the government for its lack of seriousness in managing local food.
“This is very sad as more than 870 million people [worldwide], or one in every eight people, are starving and suffering from malnutrition,” said Ida from the Alliance of Prosperous Villages (ADS) during a campaign to promote local Indonesian food on Tuesday.
The NGO says that the government is still not serious about food management, as evident in the state’s priority list of programs that ranks fifth the national food resilience program.
Ida said that the government doesn’t really care about local food management, citing the high consumption of imported food as opposed to locally produced food.
“We want to say that there has been a decline, but a slow decline. There is no seriousness from the government,” said Ida.
Although there is no official figure of malnutrition rates, World Bank data show that there are about 50 million people in Indonesia suffering from malnutrition.
Ida expressed her disappointment with the fact that local food management remains weak compared to the management of obese people in the world. She called on the media and communities to improve the country’s local food system.
“Practically 100 percent of flour in Indonesia is imported. The local foods need to be processed or else the people in general will not be familiar with them,” she said.
Ida said that ADS and its volunteers continue to remind people that Indonesia is rich with local food, which could help reduce rates of obesity and malnutrition.
Child malnutrition effects 36 percent of Indonesian children whose growth has been stunted by ill health and a lack of vital micronutrients in their diet, according to Health Ministry figures.
Stunting, one of the consequences of malnutrition, is linked to a decrease in cognitive functioning and negatively impacts both educational achievement and employment prospects.
Studies suggest that those who have been stunted earn 20 percent less over the course of their lives than those from similar backgrounds who receive adequate nutrition.