Free Lunch Proposal Remains Hot Topic Post-Election

FK-KMK UGM. Indonesia’s February election continues to spark public debate, particularly regarding the free lunch proposal from one of the candidate pairs.

Prof. dr. Yodi Mahendradhata, M.Sc., Ph.D., FRSPH., Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Faculty of Medicine, Public Health, and Nursing, Universitas Gadjah Mada (FK-KMK UGM), critiqued the feasibility of the program in his opinion piece published in The British Medical Journal (21/5).

According to estimates, the program would cost 1.9% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. Such a high expenditure could heavily burden the national budget.

If the free lunch program for school children is intended to reduce stunting, its effectiveness is also questionable. Stunting is not only influenced by individual child characteristics but also by family and community factors.

Previous research indicates that strengthening community service systems with active community involvement in the health sector and across sectors would be more impactful in developing countries like Indonesia.

Governments in developing countries also need to design a comprehensive roadmap to significantly reduce child stunting prevalence. This includes diagnostic assessments, stakeholder involvement, and the implementation of nutritional interventions in the health sector, among other strategies.

Additionally, the plan to increase the number of medical schools from 92 to 300 has also been scrutinized. Prof. Yodi argues that this response is too simplistic to address the complex issue of doctor shortages in remote and rural areas, which house about 11% of Indonesia’s population.

According to Prof. Yodi, establishing new medical faculties in Indonesia requires substantial investment. Furthermore, the rapid and extensive establishment of these faculties risks lowering the quality of medical education.

The current number of medical faculties in Indonesia is sufficient to meet the projected need for approximately 50,000 doctors over the next five years, given that Indonesian medical schools produce 10,000 to 12,000 doctors annually.

Affirmative action for medical students from remote and rural areas, coupled with scholarships that require service in these areas after graduation, would be more effective.

Therefore, Prof. Yodi views these programs as populist responses to complex problems. This approach tends to result in policies that are not evidence-based.

Moreover, the potential benefits and risks of these controversial programs are questionable.

He emphasizes that the health community in Indonesia must take concrete steps to promote evidence-informed policy-making in the future.

These recommendations are designed with reference to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Good Health and Well-being (SDG 3). (Contributor: Prof. dr. Yodi Mahendradhata, M.Sc., Ph.D., FRSPH. Reporter: Isroq Adi Subakti. Illustration:


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