Drivers of malnutrition in Timor-Leste worsened in 2020-2021, as the coronavirus pandemic and economic decline have raised the spectre of people’s inability to afford nutritious food.
“Our local (food) production has decreased in the past year and a halfand as we saw in Dili there are people screaming because of hunger,” said Ivo Da Costa, University of Dili’s Head of Public Health Faculty.
According to Costa, the COVID-19 sanitation fence around Dili has also contributed to malnutrition levels, with it “closing off” traditional and low-cost ways for people to get nutritious food which then “affects children’s malnutrition.”
Costa said his team has been hearing of Timorese people running out of money and struggling to procure food. He questioned where the help was.
“Which of our existing Ministries are paying attention to the community situation…where is the money for people to sustain their life?”
Cases of children with severe acute malnutrition – the life-threatening form – increased to 26 at Formoza II Health Centre, and at least 98 children were treated for moderate malnutrition since February 2021.
“In the month of April there was inundation of malnutritioned children at the health centre. Our health teams have gone to the field to cook for children with the intention of showing parents how to better care for their children,” said Florindo Baretto de Jesus, Formoza II Health Centre’s Head of Nutrition,
Timor-Leste has one of the highest levels of child malnutrition rates in the Pacific and South East Asia region, with over half of children deemed to not get adequate nutrition, according to U.N report on food security and nutrition.