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World a ‘virtual tinderbox’ for catastrophic levels of severe malnutrition in children – UNICEF

Soaring food prices driven by the war in Ukraine and pandemic-fuelled budget cuts set to drive up both need for, and cost of, life-saving therapeutic food treatment, the latter by up to 16 per cent 

The number of children with severe wasting was rising even before war in Ukraine threatened to plunge the world deeper into a spiralling global food crisis – and it’s getting worse, UNICEF warned in a new Child Alert.

Released yesterday, Severe wasting: An overlooked child survival emergency shows that in spite of rising levels of severe wasting in children and rising costs for life-saving treatment, global financing to save the lives of children suffering from wasting is also under threat.

“Russia and Ukraine are the breadbaskets of the world, producing around one third of the world’s grain. The war has led to soaring food prices in countries already battling climate change, drought and the pandemic” said Amelia Christie, Head of International Policy and Advocacy at the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK).

East African countries are dependent on Ukraine and Russia for 90% of grain imports. In parts of East Africa, the number of children affected by the severe drought has increased by more than 40% in the past two months alone.

“The last major famine was in Somalia in 2011 and we can see that the numbers of severely wasted children are worse now. This is an alarm call. We know how to prevent famine, but we need the political will and funds to take action early enough to avoid catastrophe and protect children now,” continued Christie.

At least 330,000 children in Somalia will need life-saving treatment for severe wasting in 2022 – far exceeding the 190,000 who required treatment during the country’s 2011 famine.  An estimated 1.4 million children will suffer from wasting – nearly 45 per cent of all children below age 5, and over three times more than in 2011.

Currently, at least 10 million severely wasted children globally – or 2 in 3 – do not have access to the most effective treatment for wasting, ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). The price of ready-to-use therapeutic food is projected to increase by up to 16 per cent over the next six months due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients. This could leave up to 600,000 additional children without access to life-saving treatment at current spending levels. Shipping and delivery costs are also expected to remain high.

“For millions of children every year, these sachets of therapeutic paste are the difference between life and death. A sixteen per cent price increase may sound manageable in the context of global food markets, but at the end of that supply chain is a desperately malnourished child, for whom the stakes are not manageable at all,” said Christie.

Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height resulting in weakened immune systems – is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Worldwide, at least 13.6 million children under five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in 1 in 5 deaths among this age group.

Around the world, countries are facing historically high rates of severe wasting. In Afghanistan, for example, 1.1 million children are expected to suffer from severe wasting this year, nearly double the number in 2018. The Child Alert also notes that even countries in relative stability, such as Uganda, have seen a 40 per cent or more increase in child wasting since 2016, due to rising poverty and climate shocks.

Christie continued: “The reality is that we already have the knowledge and tools to make a lasting difference between life and death for the world’s most vulnerable children. With collective action and the right investment in aid, progress can be made in preventing wasting and reaching every child in need of treatment.”

To reach every child with life-saving treatment for severe wasting, UNICEF is calling for countries to include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes so that all children can benefit from treatment programmes, not just those in humanitarian crisis settings. Budget allocations to address the global hunger crisis should include specific allocations for therapeutic food interventions to address the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting.

Media External Content Package including Somalia: https://weshare.unicef.org/Package/2AMZIFFNR5VM
For interview requests with UNICEF spokespeople, please contact Ceri Gautama, cerig@unicef.org.uk 


About RUTF

Ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) paste is a lipid-based energy dense, micronutrient paste, using a mixture of peanuts, sugar, oil, and milk powder, packaged in individual sachets. UNICEF, the global leader in RUTF procurement, purchases and distributes an estimated 75-80 per cent of the world’s supply from over 20 manufacturers located across the world.

About ODA

Official development assistance (ODA) is government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adopted ODA as the main instrument of foreign aid in 1969 and it remains the main source of financing for development aid. ODA data is collected, verified and made publicly available by the OECD.


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work for children. We also promote and protect children’s rights in the UK and internationally. We are a UK charity, entirely funded by supporters.

United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), Registered Charity No. 1072612 (England & Wales), SC043677 (Scotland).

For more information, please contact UNICEF UK at media@unicef.org.uk or 0207 375 6030

Original article link: https://www.unicef.org.uk/press-releases/catastrophic-levels-malnutrition/

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