More indigenous Pinoys undernourished

Artworks on IPs by Guhit Kulay Artists (Photo by Hong Kong PCG/Department of Foreign Affairs Philippines)

More Filipino indigenous people (IPs) are undernourished, anemic, and iodine-deficient compared to non-IPs. This is according to the policy statement “A Glimpse to the Health and Nutrition of IPs”, which was based on the 2013 National Nutrition Survey (NNS) of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI).

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2010, the Philippines had around 14 to 17 million IPs belonging to 110 ethnolinguistic groups, making the country well known for its abundant and diverse culture.

However, the UNDP also added that despite belonging to a vibrant culture, IPs remain the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country. With high rates of unemployment, underemployment, and illiteracy in terms of mainstream education, their socio-economic status, health, and overall well-being are at a disadvantage.

In this regard, the 2013 NNS reported that indigenous women suffered from reproductive-related problems due to poor health conditions in their communities. The IPs also have a much higher mortality rate among children under 5 years old.

The findings also revealed that the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as hypertension, high blood cholesterol, and high fasting blood sugar, is lower in IPs than in non-IPs, while IPs are more likely to be smokers and drinkers than non-IPs.

Further, the survey explained that poor nutrition and health conditions among IPs may be associated with their prolonged exposure to poor environmental conditions, insufficient financial resources, and lack of education and awareness that limit their access to the minimum health and nutrition services.

In response, the government passed Republic Act (RA) 8371, or “The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997,” which recognizes, protects, and promotes the rights and well-being of IPs. The Act emphasizes IPs’ rights to improve their economic and social conditions, including housing, sanitation, education, social security, and health.

Hence, DOST-FNRI believes that as part of RA 8371, health and nutrition programs and services should be available, accessible, and affordable especially to children and women, while also considering their culture. Furthermore, the institute recommends that program planners and policymakers collaborate with IP communities to develop specific policies, programs, and interventions relevant to their health and nutrition needs, as well as implement health and nutrition programs and services without any discrimination.

Likewise, local government units (LGUs) must also provide an accessible map of the IP community in the barangay or sitio, which would serve as a guide in providing health, nutrition, and other socio-economic services to the IPs.

LGUs, in partnership with concerned government agencies and NGOs, should include IPs in the allocation of funds and encourage their involvement in other community events and programs. (Story courtesy of DOST-FNRI)