UNICEF: Globally, an additional 6.7 million children under 5 could suffer from wasting this year due to COVID-19

Cambodia’s high rates of wasting and malnutrition expected to increase due to socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

03 August 2020
©UNICEF/2020/Chhin Sothy/AFP-Services
UNICEF/2020/Chhin Sothy/AFP-Services

PHNOM PENH, 03 August 2020 – An additional 6.7 million children worldwide under the age of five could suffer from wasting – and therefore become dangerously undernourished – in 2020 as a result of the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been seven months since the first COVID-19 cases were reported and it is increasingly clear that the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, commenting on a Lancet analysis published on July 27, 2020.

In countries like Cambodia, the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 is disrupting food security, livelihoods and the economy. This may lead to less resources for households and contribute to negative coping mechanisms that impact children’s nutrition. Loss of employment has resulted in people borrowing for consumption purposes, reducing their food intake and changing the types of food consumed. Food prices, particularly for meat, eggs and some fish products in Phnom Penh and fresh vegetables in provincial markets, have also increased, according to the World Bank 2020 Spring Cambodia Economic Update.

In recent years, Cambodia has made notable progress towards improving children’s nutrition, exemplified in reduction of stunting (low height-for-age) from 42 per cent in 2005 to 32 per cent in 2014. However, available data on wasting (low weight-for-height) indicates an increase in wasting rates from eight per cent in 2005 to 9.6 per cent in 2014.

 The Lancet analysis finds the prevalence of wasting among children under the age of five around the world can increase by 14.3 per cent in low- and middle-income countries this year, due to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) continues to be a major cause of death in children under the age of five in Cambodia (DHS 2014).  Of Cambodia’s yearly cases of SAM, around 2.5 per cent (60,000 to 90,000 cases) will need specialized medical treatment, including therapeutic feeding at a cost of USD $ 113 per child.  The current treatment coverage for SAM in Cambodia is less than six per cent of the estimated cases.

“Failing to treat SAM cases adds to the burden of morbidity and mortality in children under the age of five. There is an urgent need to increase resources from the Royal Government of Cambodia and development partners to enhance facility and community-based preventive and curative nutrition services in order to improve program coverage and quality. This should be prioritized in our work to mitigate and prevent the long-term impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Cambodia’s children. UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, is committed to supporting the treatment of SAM so that every child in Cambodia can grow up healthy and develop to their full potential,” said Jalaa Abdelwahab, UNICEF Cambodia Deputy Representative.

Mr. Abdelwahab acknowledged the good leadership of the Council of Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) on coordinating multisectoral, nutrition-sensitive interventions, and of the United Nations Scaling up Nutrition (UN-SUN) in Cambodia, with the membership of UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

In a commentary to The Lancet report, the global heads of UNICEF, the FAO, WFP and WHO appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector around the world to protect children’s right to nutrition worldwide, including in Cambodia, by:

  • Safeguarding access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets as a cornerstone of the response to COVID-19;
  • Investing decisively in support for maternal and child nutrition by protecting breastfeeding, preventing the inappropriate marketing of infant formula, and securing children and women’s access to nutritious and diverse foods;
  • Re-activating and scaling up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting;
  • Maintaining the provision of nutritious and safe school meals; and
  • Expanding social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets and essential services among the poorest and most affected households.

Media contacts

Rudina Vojvoda
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=434
Bunly Meas
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=435


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook