Indonesia: Number of malnourished children could increase sharply due to COVID-19 unless swift action is taken

Indonesia already has one of the world’s highest burdens of child stunting and wasting

30 June 2020
A nurse wears a mask when treating a patient in Puskesmas Bayat, Klaten, Central Java
UNICEF/2020/Fauzan Ijazah
A nurse wears a mask when treating a patient in Puskesmas Bayat, Klaten, Central Java

JAKARTA, 30 June 2020 – Overburdened health facilities, disrupted food supply chains and income loss due to COVID-19 could lead to a sharp rise in the number of malnourished children in Indonesia, unless swift action is taken, said UNICEF today.

Even before COVID-19, Indonesia faced high levels of malnutrition. Currently, more than two million children suffer from severe wasting, and more than seven million children under-5 are stunted.

Recent UNICEF estimates indicate that in the absence of timely action, the number of wasted children under-5 could increase globally by about 15 per cent this year due to COVID-19. This means there is a heightened risk of a surge in wasting, a condition characterized by low weight for height, also in Indonesia, since many families who lost household income are less able to afford healthy, nutritious food for their children. At the same time, there is mounting evidence that wasted children are more likely to become stunted, or have low height for their age, which could result in a larger number of stunted children in the country. Stunted and wasted children are susceptible to long term developmental delays.

“COVID-19 has hit vulnerable families the hardest,” said UNICEF Representative Debora Comini. “Unless we urgently scale up prevention and treatment services for malnourished children, we risk seeing an increase in child illness and deaths linked to malnutrition.”

Children suffering from wasting have weakened immunity and face nearly 12 times increased risk of death compared to well-nourished children, particularly when wasting is severe. While stunting is largely irreversible, and can only be prevented, wasting is both preventable and treatable. When prevention fails, treatment must be made routinely available and accessible.

Early detection of child wasting is key to the success of prevention and treatment. A simple measurement of the child’s upper-arm circumference shows if a child needs extra nutrition support. Often, a simple home-based solution including basic medicine and a course of ready-to-use therapeutic food, is all it takes for a child to become healthy again.  

Urgent actions to prevent and reduce child malnutrition include:

  • Scaling up evidence-based preventive approaches to address child stunting and wasting, and curative approaches to treat child wasting;
  • Generating quality data and information on child stunting and wasting;
  • Increasing access to locally produced essential commodities for treatment of child wasting.

In response to COVID-19, UNICEF is working with the government to continue nutrition services for vulnerable children and families, including growth monitoring and promotion, distribution of essential micronutrients, support for mothers to safely and adequately feed their babies, and screening and treatment of under-five children for severe wasting.

Media contacts

Kinanti Pinta Karana
Communications Specialist
UNICEF Indonesia
Tel: +62 8158805842


Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Indonesia, UNICEF has been leading efforts with the the Government of Indonesia, the World Health Organization and other partners to respond to the pandemic. From delivering life-saving health supplies, to building water and hygiene facilities, to keeping girls and boys connected to education and protection, UNICEF is working to slow the spread of COVID-19 and minimize its impact on children.

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