Tue, 18 Apr 2000

Over 1 million babies born malnourished

JAKARTA (JP): State Minister of Women's Empowerment Khofifah Indah Parawansa revealed on Monday that 30 percent of 3.5 million babies born in the last two years had serious malnutrition.

"Many of these babies were born weighing less than two kilograms because of their mothers' poor health," Khofifah said in a ceremony marking the first anniversary of PT Sara Lee's Zwitsal Love Indonesian Children Program here.

Malnutrition has been prevalent among newborns and infants in rural and urban areas following the economic crisis that hit the country in 1997.

"Many babies were born underweight because their mothers, especially those from young families, suffered malnutrition," the minister said.

Their growth would be retarded, both physically and mentally, she said, adding that unless help came quickly, they would become "the lost generation".

"These children will likely face a dark future and they will become a serious social problem for the nation," she said.

Khofifah, who also heads the National Family Planning Board (BKKBN), called for a nationwide campaign to address the problem of malnutrition and its impacts on women and children.

The family planning agency, she said, has a health care program for babies and mothers in its social safety net programs launched over the last two years, but these would be inadequate without public support, particularly from non-governmental organizations and consumer goods producers.

"We should give attention to newborns because the nation's future lies in their hands," she said.

Spike Braunius, president of PT Sara Lee, said his company in cooperation with Kenari Foundation and Sayap Ibu Foundation in Yogyakarta raised Rp 403 million over the last year to help more than 1,400 babies and infants suffering malnutrition in provincial cities in Java.

"Under the health care program, 78 percent of the babies and infants have grown normally. The other 22 percent are still in the program," he said.

The program consists of supplementary food distribution, regular health checkups and facility restoration projects for mothers and children, he said.

"We have helped build several kindergartens and health care centers for mothers and children in provincial cities," he said, adding that his company has also distributed DHA vitamins to health centers to help increase children's intelligence. (rms)