Transforming the fight against severe malnutrition
We know how to save millions of children from severe malnutrition and death. It’s time to scale up these solutions to protect the most vulnerable.
It was the middle of the night. Raneem Hani Ahmed Hasan was worried. She knew she had to do something immediately. “I was so scared when my son got sick. I jumped on a motorbike at 2 a.m.,” she remembers. Raneem’s 4-month-old son, Sanad, had been vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea. “Women in our town don’t ride bikes normally, but I didn’t care. I was scared for my son and would do anything to help him.”
Raneem drove in the dark to Ibn Khaldon Hospital in the city of Lahij, in southern Yemen. When she arrived, Raneem discovered what was wrong with her son. Sanad, like millions of other children in Yemen, was suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Otherwise known as severe wasting, it’s prevalent in this war-torn country.
Thankfully, the hospital has a Therapeutic Feeding Centre, which is supported by UNICEF. At the centre, children and their caregivers can access the health and nutrition care they urgently need.
Thanks to the medical and nutrition care Sanad has been receiving, he’s now significantly healthier. “I can see how much he has changed, my baby is finally smiling and laughing. It makes me so happy,” reflects Raneem.
Sanad’s story is one that’s familiar to millions of children and their families as the world confronts an unprecedented food and nutrition crisis.
According to UNICEF estimates, almost 45 million children are affected by wasting – the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Children with wasting are too thin and their immune systems are weak, leaving them vulnerable to developmental delays, disease and death. As climate change and conflict continue to wreak havoc, particularly in already vulnerable parts of the world, the number of children with wasting is likely to keep growing.
UNICEF has been working to highlight the magnitude of the nutrition crisis and working with partners to reach children in the countries that are particularly affected. But sustained funding and support are needed to ensure that we can continue expanding this work to prevent, detect and treat deadly severe malnutrition, including through game-changing partnerships like the Child Nutrition Fund.
Among the millions of children already benefiting from UNICEF’s interventions are 6-month-old Medina. She lives in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia, which has experienced severe drought for the past four decades. That drought has caused widespread hunger, resulting in thousands of the youngest children suffering from severe wasting and being at risk of death.
The impact of the health and nutrition care Medina was able to receive has been significant. Just a few weeks later, she was able to return home and continue her care in the outpatient clinic. With a smile on her face, Medina is happily playing with her mother again.
The RUTF that Medina was given is an integral part of the treatment plan for children suffering from severe wasting. The food comes in the form of a paste and is packaged in a sachet. It’s made from powdered milk, peanuts, butter, vegetable oil, sugar, and a mix of vitamins and minerals that are essential for the child’s recovery.
UNICEF has procured almost 80 per cent of the world’s RUTF. Each pack combines 500 calories and micronutrients. Children are able to digest the paste easily and gain weight quickly.
20-month-old Laoualy was another child whose life was likely saved by this kind of treatment. He had fallen sick with the flu and had a sore in his mouth that prevented him from eating. Laoualy’s inability to eat had made him malnourished. He was taken by his grandmother to a nutrition recovery centre at a hospital in Niger’s second largest city, Maradi, which is close to the southern border with Nigeria.
“They give him injections and syrups for his illnesses,” says Laoualy’s grandmother, Sahoura. “They also monitored his temperature and gave him [special therapeutic] milk several times a day. I am grateful.”
“When we arrived, I had lost hope. He couldn't even stand up,” remembers Sahoura. “Now he can stand up and call my name. He asks me for water, when he couldn't even speak when we arrived.”
Faced with a severe global food and nutrition crisis, UNICEF called for an unprecedented response to match the severity of the situation and protect the lives of millions of children. In so many ways, the response has been historic. Children like Sanad, Medina and Laoualy have received the care and treatment they desperately need to fight severe wasting, and they now have the chance to grow up and live healthy lives.
With demand for RUTF increasing, more funding is needed to reach children with this simple yet incredibly effective treatment that can mean the difference between life and death. But scaling up the response to the threat posed by wasting doesn’t just mean scaling up treatment – it also means massively expanding efforts to prevent children experiencing wasting in the first place. Child wasting is preventable – it doesn’t happen when nutritious diets, essential health and nutrition services and positive nutrition and care practices are available to women and children.
UNICEF is already delivering the largest nutrition response on record. But continued funding and support is needed to make sure we fulfil our commitment to the most vulnerable children.
We’ve shown that when called upon to protect the most at risk children from the effects of the food and nutrition crisis, the world responds. We now need the world to protect and expand these gains, so that children can survive and thrive long past the current crisis.