Thursday, 22 October 2015

A Malnutrition Crisis in NTT

Lukas faces an uncertain future. ©RayendraThayeb/ACF

Meet Lukas. The two-year-old from Oebola Dalam village in NTT struggles to play, walk and sometimes even stand up. He is very weak and noticeably thin.

A visiting health worker recently found the circumference of Lukas’ arm to be a mere 10.8cm – confirming that he suffers from “severe acute malnutrition.” This means Lukas is highly vulnerable to disease, and even death.

Lukas’ father explains the economic condition of his family: “We rely on growing and selling produce from a small garden. It gives us an income of about IDR 200,000 each month (approx. USD 16),” he says. “So I can only provide two meals a day for my family.”

A standard meal is rice or noodles with a few vegetables. The family can only afford to eat fish or other food that is rich in protein twice a month. A poor diet like this, which is far from a balanced menu, causes malnutrition.

Lukas should have received special attention from the local health workers long ago. But regrettably, the family could not take him to a Posyandu (an integrated health post). His father needed to give all his attention to the family business and his mother is currently working as a domestic assistant in Malaysia. All the while, Lukas’ condition worsened.

There are children like Lukas across NTT. More than 15 percent of children in this region have acute malnutrition, while 51% are stunted (meaning they are too short for their age).

The province is in the midst of a malnutrition crisis which could deteriorate further because of the ongoing El Niño drought in the region. Reduced harvests will increase food prices, and lack of water may increase the risk of diarrhea, another cause of malnutrition.

A severe lack of awareness around proper nutrition among community members compounds this situation. Few families understand how best to feed their young children with nutritious foods that are locally available and within their economic means.

Many families do not recognize severe acute malnutrition as a medical emergency and do not seek care when their children become very thin.

This situation puts thousands of children at risk. Children who suffer from undernutrition in early life tend to perform poorly in school due to impaired learning abilities and to be less productive as adults because of hampered physical growth and motor development. And in serious cases, disease and death can occur.

UNICEF is working in partnership with Action Contre La Faim to address this crisis. We are supporting the Ministry of Health and local government authorities to put in place services to identify children with acute malnutrition and treat them appropriately.

UNICEF is also developing the capacity of health workers and community volunteers to counsel mothers on breastfeeding and complementary feeding so that their children are less likely to become malnourished.

Lukas’ father is hopeful that one day he will be able to change their circumstances. He wants to be able to feed his children properly and give them the best chance at life.