Tackling acute malnutrition in children under five

Nov 21, 2023

Eliminating malnutrition in all of its forms by 2030 is a global target as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A Yemeni child suffering from severe acute malnutrition, is carried by her father in a camp for displaced people on February 19, 2022. (AFP)

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched its new guideline on the prevention and management of wasting and nutritional oedema (acute malnutrition).

Acute malnutrition affects millions of children worldwide.

Eliminating malnutrition in all of its forms by 2030 is a global target as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

With seven years left to achieve this ambitious target, the proportion of children with acute malnutrition "has persisted at a worrying level", says the UN health agency.

In 2022 alone, it an estimated 45 million children under five worldwide were affected.

That year, the WHO says, around 7.3 million children received treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

"Although treatment coverage has increased, children with evere acute malnutrition in many of the worst affected countries are still unable to access the full necessary care for them to recover," says the agency.

"The Global Action Plan (GAP) on child wasting recognized the need for updated normative guidance to support governments in the prevention and management of acute malnutrition.

"WHO answered this call to action and developed a comprehensive guideline that provides evidence-based recommendations and good practice statements and will be followed by guidance and tools for implementation."

'Comprehensive approach'

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, is quoted in the agency's Monday news release.

“This guideline helps to support countries to prevent and manage acute malnutrition with a specific emphasis on the continuum of care to deliver the best services possible for children and their families," he says.

"We are calling for more integration of nutrition services into health systems and the strengthening of those health systems. This is a more comprehensive approach to address the complex issue of acute malnutrition in children than ever before.”

This is the first WHO guideline focusing on both the prevention and management of acute malnutrition.

It highlights the importance of investing in both these aspects to have a real impact on reducing the prevalence and negative impacts of acute malnutrition on children and their families around the world.

Key recommendations of the guideline focus on:

▪ Child-centred approach and caring for mothers and their infants as an interdependent pair.

▪️ Breastfeeding and access to nutrient-dense home diets are critical components of both prevention and management.

▪️ Community health workers can play an important role in providing evidence-based care for children with acute malnutrition.

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