Proper nutrition provides a foundation for healthy lives and allows children to thrive.

A woman feeds her daughter nutritious food during a health outreach session supported by UNICEF, in Taoy district Saravan province, Lao PDR.

The challenge

Malnutrition takes the lives and futures of millions of children. It stunts their growth and puts them at higher risk for diseases, diminishing their capacity to fully function.

In 2018, an estimated 149 million children under the age of five were affected by stunting, a form of malnutrition that can have irreversible physical and cognitive damage. Millions more were affected by wasting (low weight-for-height) and other forms of malnutrition, and this is contributing to around 45 percent of deaths among children under five, globally.  

Insufficient protein, energy and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in a child’s diet are among the factors that lead to such conditions. In humanitarian crises and in poor communities, inadequate health services and unsafe water and sanitation can aggravate these factors as infectious diseases exacerbate the deficiencies.  

The scope of the challenge is wide. In addition to children, adolescents and women are at particular risk of malnutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies in women have consequences for the children they bear. It takes the collective effort of communities to prevent and treat malnutrition, and we can do this together by improving access to nutrition support, including appropriate products and feeding practices.

The solution

UNICEF works to improve access to high-impact health and nutrition interventions for mothers and children, delivering nutrition supplies to support the growth and development of healthy children.

In 2018, UNICEF procured $183.9 million worth of nutrition products that are safe, effective and that provide best value for money. These included, among others:

  • Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) to treat severe acute malnutrition
  • Vitamin A supplements to address a key micronutrient deficiency
  • Iron folic tablets to prevent iron deficiency anaemia

We work to support the development of local markets for quality, cost-effective products, with the aim of meeting the needs for management of malnutrition efficiently and sustainably. Through years of work with industry, UNICEF drove the expansion of its supplier base for Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) from a single manufacturer to nearly 20 manufacturers within ten years by 2017 – most of whom are located in countries close to children in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

Today, local manufacturers in Africa, Asia and in South America are facilitating access to RUTF in countries experiencing nutrition crises, at reduced economic and environmental costs, while contributing to local jobs and markets.

Watch the video to learn about UNICEF and partners' work to treat children for severe malnutrition in Afghanistan.
Link to video on it's hosted site.
Watch to see how UNICEF and partners worked to treat children for severe malnutrition in Afghanistan in 2019.