Despite its middle income status, Indonesia is dealing with what experts say are unexpectedly high rates of childhood stunting. Now, its government – starting with the the president – is declaring war on the issue and committing to boost its response to the challenge following a World Bank publication that says 37 percent of Indonesia’s children were stunted in 2013, a rate on par with some far more impoverished nations of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Stunting is the medical condition that the World Health Organization defines as “impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation.”
While Indonesia’s health ministry and other agencies have been battling to address the problem for years, the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has now elevated the issue to be a national priority, making it a point to include it in last year’s Independence Day address.
“Before he mentioned it in the speech, I doubt it has ever been mentioned by a president in Indonesia,” said Claudia Rokx, a lead health specialist at the World Bank and one of the authors of the landmark book released last month.
First 1,000 days
Health experts emphasize that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are vital for preventing stunting, requiring adequate breastfeeding and nutrition, stimulation and activity, clean water and sanitation, and timely treatment of conditions like diarrhea and malaria.
With more than one in three Indonesian children being stunted, this means around 9 million children in Southeast Asia’s most populous country are suffering from developmental limitations.
Nusa Tenggara Timur, an impoverished province of eastern Indonesia, has the highest rate of stunting in Indonesia at 52 percent. Fifi Sumanti is a midwife on Komodo Island, known for its famous dragons and home to just 2,000 people. It is arid and most food must be brought in from other islands.