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At a glance: Indonesia

UNICEF promotes exclusive breastfeeding to save children’s lives in Indonesia

© UNICEF Indonesia/2006/Estey
Filno, 15 months old, is underweight and has suffered from many recurrent illnesses due to poor nutrition.

By Steve Nettleton and Leo Wahyuti S

FLORES, Indonesia, 17 October 2006 – With a broad smile and large, brown eyes, 15-month-old Filno seems the picture of a happy childhood. Unfortunately, the wispy-haired boy has rarely seen a healthy day in his life. Since he was four months old, he has suffered consistently from recurrent fever, influenza, asthma and a host of other health problems.

Filno is undernourished and underweight, and hospital treatment has made little improvement in his condition. His mother, Kartina da Lopez, says she doesn’t know what to do.

“All the money we can afford goes to medical costs,” says Ms. da Lopez. “I may have to borrow from a loan shark for money to go to the hospital. Life is difficult.”

Reducing child mortality

Undernutrition is a chronic problem on the island of Flores, where poverty and poor feeding practices take a heavy toll on children’s health. The area suffers from one of the highest death rates in Indonesia for children under the age of five, particularly infants.

© UNICEF Indonesia/2006/Estey
Midwife Nona Pehan shows a new mother the proper way to breastfeed her four-month-old twin girls.

The death toll does not have to be so high. The Indonesian Government estimates that some 30,000 young children could be saved if their mothers exclusively breastfed them for six months, then continued breastfeeding with supplemental foods until the age of two. Unfortunately, according to the Indonesian Demographic and Health Survey from 2002 and 2003, only 14 per cent of infants in Indonesia are exclusively breastfed for their first five months of life.

To promote exclusive breastfeeding, UNICEF and the government have launched a campaign with Indonesia’s First Lady Ani Bambang Yudhoyono in a leading role. Acting as the National Breastfeeding Spokeswoman, the First Lady is taking this lifesaving message directly to the public, via community and religious leaders as well as the media.

Midwives provide knowledge

As part of the campaign, UNICEF is offering intensive training for counsellors and midwives. Across much of Indonesia, midwives act as primary health-care providers and are a key source in informing mothers how best to feed their babies.

“Every mother here knows that breastfeeding is very healthy, very nutritious and very important for their babies,” says Nona Pehan, a midwife in Maumere, the largest town in Flores. “They also recognize that breastfeeding is accessible, free and can be given anytime.”

But the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes is a major barrier against improved feeding practices in Indonesia. UNICEF is working with the government to strengthen policies controlling the marketing of these substitutes.

A promising start

Yustina, the mother of four-month-old twin girls, says she plans to stick with breastfeeding to make sure her children grow up properly nourished.

“I personally prefer exclusive breastfeeding because they enjoy it. Look, they grow healthy,” she says proudly. “I can save the money for food rather than for formula milk.”

It’s a promising start for young children – helping them to grow strong in an environment that can be unforgiving to those who are less healthy.




4 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on a campaign to promote breastfeeding and combat widespread child malnutrition in Indonesia.
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17 October 2006:
UNICEF's Sophie Boudre reports on a programme to promote breastfeeding in an earthquake-affected village in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
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