Mon, 15 May 2000

Poor find fault with community health center

JAKARTA (JP): Mothers of poor families across the capital are urgently calling on the authority to improve the service at community health and nutrition centers (Posyandu).

Interviewed separately on Thursday and Friday, the housewives said the service and number of health and nutrition centers in the capital and its surrounding areas had declined while the number of underweight children in Jakarta had soared.

The high cost of food and other staples as a result of the economic crisis has made the women unable to fulfill their children's basic needs, such as daily meals and regular medication.

Due to government subsidies and donations from international bodies, all medicines and services at the centers are cheaper than those at regular hospitals or clinics.

Neneng, a mother of four children, lives in Kota Bambu, West Jakarta. She said she could no longer provide skimmed milk for her two toddlers since the local health and nutrition center, which previously distributed free skimmed milk to children from poor families, closed its doors three months ago.

"I have changed the skimmed milk for sweet tea," she said.

Her two-year-old girl, Maya, weighs only nine kilograms and cannot walk steadily.

"My husband earns only Rp 75,000 a week. That's not enough to buy good food," she said.

Enay, mother of baby boy Dimas Alif, lives in a slum in Menteng, Central Jakarta. She said a trip with her son to her local health and nutrition center cost her Rp 500, while the same service at a local hospital would be six times higher.

She was very disappointed after learning that her neighborhood center had stopped operations some months ago.

"I only once brought my son to the center, that was one-and-a- half years ago," said the house helper, who earns a monthly wage of Rp 140,000.

"Now I have to spend extra money."

The current economic hardships has led poor Jakartans and their children to rely upon the centers for their health needs.

Reports say that the number of the community centers nationwide are declining.

Quoting Stephen J. Woodhouse, the United Nations Children's Fund representative for Indonesia and Malaysia, Media Indonesia reported that the number of the health centers across the country had dropped by 60 percent from 240,000.

Head of the nutrition section at the city health agency Siti Djulaeha Yahya said the number of centers in Jakarta last year totaled 3,673.

She explained that health and community centers were established in the late 1970s, with the basic aim of bringing health care close to people.

The center provides food for children, low-cost basic health care and family planning services, usually once a month.

Center executives work on a voluntary basis with guidance from officials from the community health care clinics.

A basic center follows what is referred to as the five table system. Table one is to register the child; table two is to have it weighed and measured; table three is used to record the results and current immunization status; table four is to give information on how to improve the child's health; and table five is where the child is provided with any necessary treatments.

"I have yet received complete reports but it is correct that the number of centers has been declining. I think it's mainly due to the fact that the center workers, who are mostly housewives, have now had to become breadwinners for their families since their husbands have been fired," she said.

The agency's 1999 data also show that the number of malnourished children in Jakarta totals 4,360. (ind)