Toward a concrete nutrition policy

 

Although the government has shown strong commitment to reducing child mortality by 40 percent over the last decade, the nation’s child mortality rate remains high. A 2012 UNICEF report outlined that every three minutes, a child under 5 years old dies in our country; or some 400 children every day.

This fact has raised mounting concern that by the deadline of 2015, Indonesia will not have achieved the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing child mortality by two-thirds of the 1990 rate of 97 per 1,000 births.

The president-elect must create a powerful policy on young children’s nutrition to dramatically reduce the child mortality rate.

Strong evidence shows that low levels of breastfeeding contribute significantly to the high death rates of infants. World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF studies say that optimal breastfeeding prevents newborn and child deaths and protects them against infectious disease. The government has created programs to promote breastfeeding and as a result, breastfeeding rates have continued to rise, albeit slowly. According to the Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey (IDHS), the percent of exclusive breastfeeding increased only from 17 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in 2012.

The Health Law and Government Regulation No. 33/2012 minimally protect a child’s right to good nutrition. Moreover, the regulations only regulate the health system, while failing to provide real protection and support for optimal breastfeeding with its many loopholes.

Here are three salient things the next president should consider. First, our next leader must strengthen the existing policy by eliminating all normative articles and replace them with a concrete and achievable national policy on children’s nutrition that protects, supports, and promotes breastfeeding. He must be able to deliver equal quality health services in urban and rural areas.

He should also operationalize the concept of optimal breastfeeding by requiring the early initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond, with age-appropriate, nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods.

Second, and perhaps the most crucial issue is public health. The baby food industry often comes up with findings from their own scientific studies. The government should comply with the International Code of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes so that it can be prepared to handle the hazardous impacts of the unethical approaches of the baby food industry.

Finally, child mortality and infectious disease in children demand high human cost. These problems hamper our social and economic development as they jeopardize the human potential represented by children. A strong commitment to reducing child mortality and improving their health would contribute to the efficiency of the national health budget.

Therefore, I urge the next president to make real changes in the national policy on young children’s nutrition, to change the current normative policy to a concrete and achievable one based on ethics to dramatically reduce child mortality and protect children’s health in Indonesia.

 

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Irma Hidayana is a breastfeeding advocate and a USAID-PRESTASI scholar at Montclair State University, New Jersey. This article is published by The Jakarta Post.