Severely wasted children are more likely to die because their immunity to infections is weakened by a lack of nutrients. Those who survive may go on to suffer poor growth and development and fail to thrive. Children become severely wasted if they do not gain sufficient weight or lose weight due to inadequate dietary intake or diseases like diarrhea and respiratory infections. The high proportion and number of severely wasted children reflect the poor nutritional status of women during pregnancy, poor breastfeeding and feeding practices, lack of sanitation and hygiene, poor access to quality health services, and food insecurity.
Across South Asia, government statistics indicate that less than five percent of severely wasted children are receiving appropriate care and treatment. This unacceptable situation stems from a number of reasons. First, there is a perception that the treatment of severe wasting is only relevant in an emergency or humanitarian contexts, while prevention is only applicable in stable or development settings. This is not true – every country in South Asia needs systems in place to both prevent and treat severe wasting in both crisis and stable settings. Second, families often do not realise that their severely wasted children need urgent medical assistance, and do not seek treatment until very late when the condition is more difficult to treat – if at all. Third, there is a belief among some medical professionals that children with severe wasting need to be treated in a hospital or health facility. In the past, hospital admission was the only option available. However, we now know that children can be safely treated in their homes and communities provided they have no medical complications.