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The Health and Nutrition Situation of Children and Women in Indigenous Communities: A Preliminary Review

This study reviewed and summarized the status of action programmes, empirical studies, including information of data from both published and unpublished sources and other activities on health and nutrition situation of children and women in seven indigenous communities. Materials and data on the following were obtained: a) indigenous peoples of the Cordillera, which include groups like the Ibaloi, Kankana-ey, Bontok, Ifugao, Kalinga, Isneg, and Tinggian; b) Agta of Northeastern Luzon;; c) Aetas of Mt. Pinatubo; d) Mangyans of Mindoro; e) Batak of Palawan; f) Negritos of Negros Oriental; and g) the Lumads of Southern Mindanao. The study primarily presents a health situationer, specifically discussing infant (under five years old), child, and maternal mortality incidents and causes, and a nutrition situationer. Available information on health and nutrition practices, such as dietary patterns and use of services and facilities, are likewise presented. Desk and field data-gathering were conducted for a month and a half. On the health and nutrition situation, it was observed that: a)Except for the IMR and MMR for the Lumads of Southern Mindanao, the available figures on the vital indicators of health and nutrition are generally low. b)Though such figures are generally low, health and nutrition problems persist which, however, should be preventable and treatable. This shows the continued absence or lack of basic health personnel, facilities, resources and information in these extremely poor upland groups. c)There is a serious lack of information on the nutrition status across the groups. For many of them, poor nutrition, especially among the children and mothers, is often a direct or indirect cause of their common illnesses and deaths. d)Drugs for treatment are still underutilized and the communities still depend mainly on their traditional practices (e.g., for birth delivery) and treatment for illness (herbs). e)Information on these groups is uneven, i.e., more information is available for certain communities (as for the Cordillera groups) while there is scarce basic information for many other groups whose health and nutrition status are perhaps even worse. Data on their nutrition and health behavior patterns show: a)The indigenous groups' health and nutrition practices are still very much influenced by their traditions and cultural values. b)Thus, the adoption of utilization of outside initiatives--like drugs, assistance from medical professionals, family planning--appears to be slow. c)They have deficient food intake/diet due primarily to the overall increasing poverty conditions in these areas which is aggravated by the rapid depletion of their natural resources. d)The nutrition value in their food is unbalanced, i.e., more carbohydrates and starchy food while deficient in protein, vitamins, and minerals. A variety of factors may explain for the inadequate diet of these upland indigenous groups (e.g., kind of bio-physical environment, subsistence production, lack of knowledge on nutritious food). They have deficient food intake/diet due to the overall increasing poverty conditions in their areas which is aggravated by the rapid depletion of their natural resources. e)Similar to the data on their health and nutrition status, information on the nutrition and health behavioral patterns is still poorly documented across the groups. The review revealed and further confirmed that: a) current efforts and activities to improve the health and nutrition status of children and women in indigenous communities are limited in terms of coverage of communities that are scattered throughout the country, and the services provided, and b) there is a lack of documentation of these few efforts and activities that are aimed to improve the health and nutrition situation of children and women in these communities. The review concluded that the health and nutrition problems of these and many other indigenous peoples demonstrate not simply a technical problem, i.e., lack of health facilities or health personnel. The study, more importantly, confirms the indigenous peoples' continued marginalized status in Philippine society. There is a great deal of inadequacy in the quality and quantity of services required to respond to their health and other basic needs. That their health and nutrition problems should be understood and acted on as a consequence of their economic impoverishment (e.g., low productivity, low income) poses a pressing challenge to both researchers and policy makers who are truly committed to assist in the complex task of upland development.


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