Banda Aceh – The average height of children first entering school in Aceh over the last six years has decreased by eight centimeters. In 1997 the average height of children first entering school was 119cm however by the end of 2003 the average was only 110cm (sic). This condition reflects the presence of growth disorder which if allowed to continue will impact on the intelligence of the next generation of children.
These facts were revealed by the head of the Aceh department of health Dr Mulya Hasjmi at a meeting with the minister of health Achmad Sujudi and Acehnese health officials in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh on August 11.
The meeting is part of a visit by the minister of health to Aceh to review free government health services provided to the Acehnese people, to officiate of the opening of four puskesmas (health clinics) in the regency of Greater Aceh and to officiate a program to encourage people to use integrated health service posts (Posyandu). Meanwhile the donation of a cold room for various kinds of vaccines and related equipment is part of assistance provided by the Canadian and Swedish governments.
According to the head of the Aceh Family Health and Nutrition Agency, Evy Syafrida, these findings are very surprising and reflect a lack of nutrition among a segment of children in Aceh. She did not discard the possibility that the reason for the decrease in the average height of these children is the [armed] conflict which has been brewing since 1997.
Another factor is the lack of socialisation on the importance of providing a balanced and nutritious diet and the public’s minimal understanding of maintaining a sufficiently nutritious diet. “For us this is an extremely serious problem and dealing with it is a priority”, said Evy.
Responding to the findings which are a result of a survey Height of Children Entering School in Aceh, the health minister asked that the data be clarified before being publicised so that it does not create unrest. He also suggested that the causes be found before hand because he is concerned that the data is too narrow. It is believed that these children are lacking in protein and calcium and as a result bone growth is inhibited.
Evy who was asked about the methodology of the survey explained that the target group was a random selection of 30 per cent of children who came to the puskesmas, both from six years ago as well as those who were measured in 2003. “These measurements have been conducted routinely since 1997 as stipulated by the department of health”, she said. (TRI)
[Slightly abridged translation by James Balowski.]