Parwana’s journey to recovery from severe acute malnutrition

RUTF: A simple treatment that saves 100,000s of lives

By Salam Al-Janabi
05 October 2022

HERAT, AFGHANISTAN ­­– Malika rolls up her 4-year-old daughter’s sleeve revealing an alarmingly thin arm. Little Parwana came with her mother to the UNICEF-supported health facility in the nick of time. She has little energy, her skin is dry and wrinkled, and her cheeks are hollow. She weighs just 9 kilogrammes, while she should be twice that weight at her age and height.

As the nutrition counsellor wraps the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measurement tape around Parwana’s thin arm, she completes a simple measurement that allows health workers to quickly determine if a child is acutely malnourished. The diagnosis is confirmed: severe acute malnutrition.

Across Afghanistan, an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year. And UNICEF warns that without urgent action, over 1 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition.

As soon as the nutrition counsellor diagnoses Parwana with severe acute malnutrition, her mother goes to the pharmacy to collect 28 sachets of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a fortified peanut paste that helps children recover from malnutrition. UNICEF, the sole provider of RUTF in Afghanistan, has been sending hundreds of thousands lifesaving RUTF sachets all over the country.

Between August and November 2021, UNICEF helped to treat an estimated 121,000 children under-five suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Yet, the number of children provided with treatment has alarmingly increased lately.

According to UNICEF’s tracking data, the number of children treated for severe acute malnutrition increased from about 30,000 children in October to 54,000 children in November 2021.

Even though children like Parwana are now in treatment, the situation is dire for millions who are at risk as families go hungry. After a dry winter, a weak harvest and drought, almost half of the people in Afghanistan do not have enough food to eat. Many don’t know where their next meal is coming from.