Catastrophic explosion in severe malnutrition rates for children threatens world, says UNICEF

Published today, the information note with the title Serious waste: A muted emergency that threatens children’s survival shows that in the face of rising rates of serious childhood waste and rising costs of treating this condition, the global funding needed to save the lives of the children affected is also at stake.

“Before the war in Ukraine affected global food security, families were already struggling to feed their children due to conflict, climate shock and COVID-19,” said Catherine Russell, executive director of the UN Fund for Children. “The world is now on the brink of an explosion in preventable infant deaths and childhood waste.”

At present, at least 10 million severely wasted children – two thirds – do not have access to ready-to-use therapeutic foods, which is the most effective treatment for this condition.



© UNICEF Somalia Makundi

Four-year-old Faylow was treated for severe malnutrition by UNICEF in Somalia in 2017.

Sharply rising prices

According to UNICEF, the combined effects of global shocks that undermine global food security – namely the war in Ukraine, the difficulties of economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic and the persistent drought in many countries due to climate change – create the conditions for a significant increase in the number of severe waste around the world.

According to projections, the price is therapeutic foods that are ready to use is expected to record up to 16% increase over the next six months due to sky-high raw material costs. A situation that risks depriving up to 600,000 more children of this life-saving treatment given the current funding levels. Shipping and distribution costs, which are also high, are also not expected to fall.

“Every year, millions of children’s lives depend on this therapeutic letter preparation. If global food markets appear to be able to absorb an additional 16% of costs, it is the life of a severely malnourished child who is put at the end of the supply chain. at risk of such an increase. But for this child, the effort is unacceptable, “added Catherine Russell.

Characterized by extreme underweight in relation to height due to a weakened immune system, severe shrinkage is the most immediate, visible and fatal form of malnutrition. Worldwide, at least 13.6 million children under the age of 5 suffer from this disease, which is responsible for one-fifth of the deaths in this age group.

Sahel in particular was affected

South Asia remains “epicentered” by severe losses, with about 1 in 22 children affected, at a rate three times higher than in sub-Saharan Africa. Elsewhere in the world, serious waste also reaches historically high rates in various countries. In Afghanistan, for example, 1.1 million children are at risk of serious waste this year, almost double that of 2018.

In the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, the number of severely spilled children could quickly rise from 1.7 million to 2 million, while an increase of 26% in the Sahel is expected compared to 2018.

The report also highlights that some relatively stable countries, such as Uganda, have experienced an increase of 40% or more in childhood waste since 2016. This situation is explained by the worsening poverty and family food insecurity, which has the effect of affecting quality and the frequency of meals for children and pregnant women. In addition, climate-related shocks such as cycles of intense drought and problems with access to secure water supply and sanitation services are helping to increase the number of cases.

The report also warns of the serious shortage of funds for waste, knowing that a sharp decline is expected in the coming years with little hope of a return to pre-pandemic levels before 2028. a new analysis conducted as part of this note, global spending on waste represents only 2.8% of the budget for official development assistance (ODA) allocated to the health sector in general and 0.2% of the total ODA amount.

In order for any child suffering from severe loss to benefit from life-saving treatment, UNICEF requests that:

  • Governments increase aid for waste by at least 59% compared to 2019 ODA levels with the aim of reaching all children in need of treatment in 23 countries with high burdens;
  • Countries are integrating child waste management into long-term health and development funding plans so that all children – including those not in a humanitarian crisis – can benefit from treatment programs;
  • Budget appropriations to address the global food crisis include routinely dedicated funds for therapeutic foods to meet the immediate needs of children suffering from severe waste;
  • Donors and civil society organizations are raising the fight against waste as a funding priority to ensure that the financial support ecosystem is diversified, expanded and strong.

“Nothing can justify a child suffering from severe wasting – especially since we have the opportunity to prevent this pathology. “We have very little time left to relaunch a global effort to prevent, detect and treat malnutrition, and we must definitely use it before the situation takes on even more dramatic proportions,” Catherine Russell concluded.

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