16 May Malnutrition: One of Timor-Leste’s biggest health challenges
Malnutrition is the single greatest contributor to premature death and disability in Timor-Leste; it weakens the immune system and can lead to a heightened risk of illness and disease.
The effects of chronic malnutrition are irreversible if it left untreated by the time a child reaches two or three years of age. An estimated 50 per cent of children in Timor-Leste suffer from a form malnutrition called stunting – one of the highest rates in Asia
Why is malnutrition such an issue in Timor-Leste?
According to the National Nutrition Strategy of Timor-Leste, factors include:
- extreme poverty
- low agricultural productivity
- overemphasis on staple foods (especially rice)
- poor health services (and lack of access to them)
- lack of clean water, inadequate sanitation and hygiene
- insufficient public knowledge of what is good nutrition and the consequences of under-nutrition
We interviewed Ms. IMACULADA BELO; a recent Nutrition graduate who works at the World Health Organization as a Nutrition and Food Safety assistant. She began volunteering at our Clinic in February 2018.
How did you learn about the Order of Malta clinic?
I learnt about Order of Malta from a friend of mine who recommended I volunteer. I then visited the clinic website and read about their mission which further encouraged me to apply.
I was then given a chance to meet with the clinic manager, Mana Lanie and Dr. Nara. From the meeting I was assigned to provide nutrition education to the patients.
What were your first impressions of the Order’s Clinic?
The friendly environment – all the staff were very welcoming on my first day meeting them. My second impression was that the clinic was very clean in comparison to other clinics I have been to. Thirdly, how competent and professional the doctors and nurses were – treating every patient with care and without discrimination.
What are the most common problems you are seeing amongst patients?
According to my personal observation, regardless of the type of diseases or illness, most patients who came to the hospital are those who think curative is a better choice than prevention. What support I can provide is to give them advice and information as to how they might prevent future illness, rather than be prescribed with medicine.
Before the opening of the Clinic, where would patients have gone to for treatment?
The lower income population would have gone to public hospital and clinics, whereas the middle and higher income population would’ve gone to private clinics and hospital due to the poor service and treatment provided by the public facilities. In addition, lack of trust to the new Timorese Doctors has prevented many from seeking medical help.
In your opinion, what is the most significant health issue facing the people of Timor-Leste?
Based on my observations undernourished and respiratory diseases are prevalent.
Have there been any cases that have stood out to you?
TB (tuberculosis) cases still stand out to me. The reason being, there are various health public programs to combat the disease however it still exists and many, especially the elderly and low economic population, are the most to suffer.
What impact has working at the Order of Malta Clinic had on you personally?
Working at the clinic is an exciting new experience, as I have the chance to work directly with patients. Interacting with these patients makes me understand what is necessary for us to do in order to help them. As World Health Organization employee working with the Ministry of Health, I become the voice of these patients, advocating their problem to these organizations, who are working hard to combat health issues and disparities in Timor Leste.
What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the clinic?
I would like to see this clinic run a community education program for health promotion, as a method of disease prevention. This program is highly supported by the government as well as other international organisations such as, Partnership for Development, the Australian Embassy and the US Embassy. If these activities are implemented, health care cost will also reduce, as this continues to be a burden for many Timorese people.
What YOU can do to help combat malnutrition in Timor-Leste.
The Order of Malta Clinic would like to offer an regular Nutrition Program to parents and patients suffering from malnutrition.
The program would include health education sessions, which would incorporate cooking demonstrations, a supplementary feeding program and the distribution of food packs and health kits.
A trial program had 15 children and their parents attend and was a huge success.
However, a lack of funding is preventing this initiative.