Child malnutrition at a critical level
Indonesia, which is the fourth most populated country in the world at almost 240 million people, consists of approximately 17,000 islands. The islands are unevenly populated, 88% Muslim, 10% Christian, and slightly more rural than urban (56 percent). Nias, off the northwest coast of Sumatra, is the largest island outside the mainland of North Sumatra province, and is considered one of the poorest regions in Indonesia. Poverty is estimated to affect 30% of the population, considerably higher than the 15% rate for the province and the national rate of 17%.
Following the devastating Asian tsunami of December, 2004, Nias was rocked by an 8.7 magnitude earthquake in March 2005, causing widespread damage and leaving parts of the island’s coral reef standing several meters above sea level. These disasters complicated an already marginal social context in South Nias district, where the majority of people live in rural mountainous communities without year-round road access, sufficient food or access to health care. South Nias has the lowest ratio of health professionals (doctors and midwives) to population in the province, and frequent turnover of staff is a recurrent problem.
Despite improvement in recent years, health outcomes on Nias Island still lag behind provincial and national levels.The most troublesome gaps are in nutrition for children less than 5 years of age. Among other findings, a recent survey we conducted showed that 46% of children are underweight, one of the highest rates in the entire world.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, many relief agencies began work on Nias Island. However, most of these efforts were limited to the northern part of the island and easily accessible coastal areas in the south, excluding the remote mountainous inland subdistricts of South Nias. Medical Teams International sent 46 medical relief teams to Indonesia since the 2004 tsunami, and in 2006 we transitioned from disaster relief to community development, informed by a needs assessment and baseline survey. We implemented a Child Survival Project targeting diarrhea, nutrition, maternal health, pneumonia, immunization, dental needs, food production, and water and sanitation, all in partnership with the District Health Office. These health interventions were delivered through 586 women from 58 villages in “care groups,” who were trained to become volunteer health educators, training others in their community on health topics.
We are now focused on rebuilding and strengthening monthly health posts, gathering points at which health volunteers deliver education and monitor child growth, and where clinic health workers provide vaccinations and consultations.
We are improving the nutritional health of young children by mobilizing and training new community health workers, supporting monthly health posts with training on growth monitoring and promotion, identifying positive feeding practices, teaching positive practices to families with malnourished kids, promoting consumption of essential vitamins and micro-nutrients and reducing the cycle of childhood illnesses that lead to more malnutrition.
For more information about our work in Indonesia, please see the Child Survival in Indonesia report [PDF].
Plans for 2012-2013
We are continuing the implementation community health projects. The Nias Child Survival Projectaims to improve the health of more than 10,000 children under 5 and 17,000 women of reproductive age. Our health promoters are working to deliver immunizations, nutrition training, control diarrheal disease and are addressing water and sanitation issues.
We will send 2 volunteer teams to Indonesia to support our programs this year.
Medical Teams International partners with many local and international partners to carry out its programs in Indonesia. We are currently working under a local non-profit called a Yayasan. Medical Teams International is committed to assisting the Ministry of Health with reconstruction, direct care, training and community health programs. We also coordinate with local community-based organizations and churches.
Please donate or volunteer to help save lives in Indonesia.