Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s call for unity across government and political aisles to convey the nation’s interest, or in his own term “Keluarga Malaysia”, is welcome.
His recognition of the difficulties faced by many households and families in Malaysia is also welcome, as the Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdowns have severely affected many people, especially those in the B40 group, for more than a year.
And unfortunately, many children are at a higher risk of going hungry.
As such, People’s Health Forum (PHF), a platform created in April 2019 by several non-profit organizations and individuals committed to the principle of “health for all”, urges the new government to immediately resume the national supplementary diet program. for schoolchildren to prevent those from poor or troubled families from going hungry.
Before the pandemic, more than 500,000 Malaysian students from low-income households relied on the program each year.
As more people fall below the poverty line due to both the pandemic and the economic downturn caused by the closures, more schoolchildren are suffering from hunger and famine.
In 2019, the UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Fund) special report entitled “Children Without: A study of urban child Poverty and Deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur” stated that approximately 22% of children under five are stunted, 15% are underweight and 23% are overweight or obese.
Covid-19 has further exacerbated food insecurity among low-income households, forcing families to adopt less healthy diets and further exacerbating the child malnutrition crisis in the country.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that initiatives such as the Complementary Feeding Program are undertaken to provide much needed complementary feeding to students, especially those in the B40 group who depend on free school meals.
The government increased the allocation to RM 420 million as part of the 2021 budget, but the wave of extended school closures cut access to the program.
But closing schools should not affect food distribution. After all, the production and delivery of food is not prohibited during lockdowns. Most importantly, hunger doesn’t stop when schools close.
Schools have the network and the database to reach children. Malaysia’s National Nutrition Action Plan III, 2016-2025 produced by the Ministry of Health also provides strategies and plans for delivering food to those in need.
What we really need now is for schools to translate these plans into action.
We urge the government to work with public schools at the local and district level, parent-teacher groups and other relevant bodies to take advantage of existing mechanisms and / or new delivery mechanisms that comply with standard operating procedures necessary to resume. the program as soon as possible. .
The pandemic has increased food insecurity among poor and vulnerable groups, with a significant impact on children in these households. Restarting the supplementary feeding program for schoolchildren is a step towards meeting their nutritional needs and protecting them from malnutrition and increased susceptibility to Covid-19 infection and other health issues in the future. .
POPULATION HEALTH FORUM