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At a glance: Indonesia

In the fight against malnutrition, knowledge is power

Ensuring good nutrition is a major challenge across Indonesia, where one in three children under the age of 5 suffers from stunted growth.


By Michael Klaus

As part of an EU-UNICEF pilot programme aimed at reducing malnutrition, a community health worker in Indonesia teaches the value of good nutrition and correct breastfeeding practices.

KLATEN, Indonesia, 16 May 2014 – Ibu Sani smiles and calls out ”Selamat pagi”  – good morning – as she walks down the street. A community health volunteer for more than 20 years, she knows every woman and child in her village in Central Java province.

Known as ‘cadres’, community health volunteers play an important role in Indonesia’s health system. Through the local posyandu, a community-based health post, cadres have a direct link with mothers in their community.

“Many mothers in the community come to me for information,” Sani says. “They want to know how to prepare food for their child and family, and when they should first start feeding solid food to their child.”

Focus on nutrition

Malnutrition is a major issue in Indonesia, where one in three children is stunted. Stunting, which hinders a child’s physical growth and brain development, occurs when a child does not  receive enough nutritious foods or suffers repeated diseases like diarrhoea that cause the body to lose nutrients. The most critical period for child growth and development is the first 1,000 days from the start of pregnancy to a child’s second birthday.

Women like Sani have worked as cadres for years. In partnership with the European Union, UNICEF has focused on nutrition by introducing a training module to help cadres support mothers to eat well themselves and to breastfeed and provide a healthy, diverse diet for their children.

© UNICEF Video
A training session for community health workers

Sani can relate to the problem from her personal experience.  “Right after I was born, my mother gave me coconut water, and she also fed me rice with crushed palm sugar,” she says.  “And when my daughter was born, I immediately gave her formula, porridge and other food. But now that I know it’s not good, I feel bad.”

Overall, breastfeeding practices in Indonesia have improved significantly over the past years, but still only 42 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed during the first six months, and the nutritional status of many children deteriorates when mothers introduce complementary feeding.

“At the training, I learned how to help mothers breastfeed correctly, and about healthy complementary feeding practices and the introduction of solid food to an infant’s diet,” Sani says.

“Most mothers in the village understood they should breastfeed for four months, but they didn’t know they should breastfeed exclusively for six months before introducing solid foods.”

Making an impact

Sani undertook the training course on infant and young child feeding (IYCF) two years ago and now shares her knowledge with mothers in her community. 

The programme receives strong backing from the Indonesian Government – for every cadre UNICEF trains, the Government trains four more. The programme is being piloted with support from the European Union and UNICEF, along with NGO partners, in three districts in the provinces of Central Java, East Nusa Tenggara and Papua. Eventually it will be expanded by the Indonesian Government to 64 districts in 11 of the country’s 33 provinces.

This community-based strategy is already having an impact, allowing mothers, their children, family members and the broader community to prevent stunting and other forms of malnutrition.

“Mothers used to buy instant porridge from the markets,” Sani says. “I counselled mothers to instead use the family food, such as rice, chicken and vegetables. Now even mothers from higher income families buy fresh food for their family and child.



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