A wonder ‘food’ for the world’s children
RUTF has helped treat millions of children threatened by severe wasting. But what is it? And why is this treatment so amazing?
What is RUTF?
RUTF is ready-to-use therapeutic food. It’s an energy dense, micronutrient paste made using peanuts, sugar, milk powder, oil, vitamins and minerals that has helped treat millions of children threatened by severe wasting – the most dangerous form of malnutrition. Globally, 1 in 5 deaths among children under age 5 is attributed to severe wasting, making it one of the top threats to child survival.
Why is RUTF a wonder ‘food’?
RUTF comes in a one-dose foil sachet, has a shelf life of two years and doesn’t require refrigeration, even after opening. It doesn’t require preparation and doesn’t need to be mixed with water, reducing the risk of children consuming contaminated water. It is safe and easy to use and can be eaten straight from the sachet. RUTF revolutionized the treatment of uncomplicated forms of severe wasting among children by allowing treatment to take place at home rather than in hospitals.
And best of all, children like it!
What’s UNICEF’s role?
In most cases, children with wasting can be treated with RUTF, allowing them to recover in their own homes and communities rather than in a health facility. UNICEF procures and distributes an estimated 75-80 per cent of the world’s RUTF supply.
Delivering RUTF to communities where children live is a complex exercise. Supplies of RUTF are typically transported to warehouses in field offices. Once commodities reach these field locations, UNICEF partners take supplies across the last mile – to community health programmes. Careful supply planning ensures that buffer stocks are available in nearby warehouses in case there is a surge in demand or a delay in replenishment.
Thanks largely to RUTF, large-scale operations have been conducted to save children’s lives in some of the globe’s most complex emergencies. UNICEF also helps governments scale up the treatment of children with wasting and integrate it within routine primary health-care services, focusing on the most vulnerable children and monitoring implementation through national health information systems.
But more needs to be done.
Many countries don’t include RUTF in their essential medicines and commodities lists – unlike vaccines – and so don’t routinely procure it. Treatment for severe wasting is also often poorly integrated into routine services. This leaves the vast majority of severely wasted children who live in non-emergency contexts without access to RUTF treatment. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic and armed conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, are driving up the price of RUTF.