Jakarta. A new two-year program whose pilot project was conducted in East Nusa Tenggara and East Java last year has made significant progress in the prevention of anemia and stunting, conditions that plague millions of expecting mothers and toddlers in Indonesia.
The micronutrition supplement program, called Mitra, was a collaboration between the Health Ministry and Canada-based non-governmental organization Nutrition International.
It targeted pregnant women who suffered from anemia and toddlers who suffered from micronutrient deficiencies.
During the program, Nutrition International provided 211,000 pregnant women with iron and folic acid supplements. A total of 720,000 children also received two doses of vitamin A supplement every day and 64,000 children under five years old who regularly suffered from diarrhea received zinc and oral rehydration supplements.
"Our goal is to reduce anemia among pregnant women by increasing blood-booster pills consumption and providing zinc for toddlers," Kirana Pritasari, a medical doctor and the general director of public health at the Health Ministry said in a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday.
The program achieved the goal by improving the management and services at community health centers (Puskesmas) and integrated healthcare and family planning posts (Posyandu).
"Nutrition International improved the Puskesmas' system planning and management so they can distribute their logistics better," Kirana said.
Anemia during pregnancy and lack of micronutrients in early ages are contributing factors to stunting, or growth and development impairments among children. In Indonesia, stunting is a persistent problem with 31 percent of toddlers under five years old suffering from the irrecoverable condition in 2018. Meanwhile, anemia prevalence in pregnant women was 49 percent in 2018.
More worryingly, pregnant women's consumption rate of supplement pills was as low as 38 percent in 2018. According to the World Health Organization, pregnant women with anemia are two times more prone to death than those without.
Sri Kusyuniati, country director of Nutrition International, said pregnant women should consume at least 90 blood-booster pills throughout their pregnancy, however, many expecting mothers neglect this requirement.
"The most important thing to work on is the patient's compliance," Sri, who trained as a medical doctor, said.
"The public needs better information from health workers. Medical records in health centers are often inadequate because the staff members are not trained to take notes or write progress reports," she said.
"We need to work on health workers' behavior when treating patients. They need to be more helpful and attentive," she said.
Sri said Nutrition International is planning to run the same program in West Java in April.
"We will implement the project in West Java, a region that has a high stunting rate and high population," Sri said.
The Health Ministry wants other provinces to take lessons from this program and implement it in their own health facilities. It will relay the findings from the program to related ministries, agencies, academics and organizations.