Severe wasting, also known as acute malnutrition or severe malnutrition among children, is a preventable but deadly emergency.

Severe malnutrition, the most fatal form, is one of the greatest threats to children’s survival. Infectious disorders such as diarrhea, measles, and malaria, which deplete young children’s immune systems, are responsible for one out of every five deaths among children under the age of five.

According to the WHO, 13.6 million children under the age of five suffer from severe wasting, commonly known as severe acute malnutrition. This figure may climb as a result of ongoing hostilities and climate challenges. Because many countries rely on Ukrainian and Russian exports, the Ukraine conflict could exacerbate the global food crisis. As the cost of life-saving RUTF rises, more children’s lives are jeopardized.

Child wasting has increased by more than 40% in some areas, even those that are generally steady. Since 2016, malnutrition among children in Uganda has soared by more than 60%. Nonetheless, given the magnitude of the problem, even modest increases in funding for acute malnutrition therapy could result in a huge reduction in child mortality.

We already have all of the information and tools we need to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. It will take time to eliminate world hunger and malnutrition. There are various things we can do right away to save youngsters from severe malnutrition.

Taking a look at the crisis

Is severe wasting an illness?

The most obvious and hazardous indication of malnutrition is a low weight-to-height ratio. The most lethal kind is severe wasting, often known as severe acute malnutrition. Because of a lack of enough nourishment, an undernourished child’s immune system is compromised by recurring infections such as diarrhea, measles, and malaria.

How does it affect children?

When children’s illnesses are compounded by acute malnourishment, they can be fatal. Children who are severely malnourished are more vulnerable to these infections due to a lack of defenses in their systems. They starve to death because their digestive systems are unable to handle the food they eat. A chronically malnourished child’s body is unable to function at its most basic level. Taking a breath depletes all of their resources.

Is this a widespread problem?

Severe wasting affects at least 13.6 million children under the age of five worldwide, accounting for one in every five fatalities in this age group. Pneumonia, the leading infectious cause of death in children, kills 11 times more severely malnourished children than healthy children.

In a handful of countries, waste levels have risen since 2016. This startling increase is the result of several things. As a result, the number of cases in areas affected by conflict and natural disasters has increased. Severe wasting will continue to impede our efforts to minimize child fatalities from all causes until the number of affected children is reduced.

..Still, it fails to garner much-needed attention

One-quarter of children with severely wasting lives are in emergencies that make headlines, sometimes showing skeletally thin toddlers in agony. Although severe wasting is more common in rural and urban areas where the media is less accessible, it is more prevalent in young children.

Even though three-quarters of children with severe wasting diseases are not in an emergency, the majority of them are treated. As a result, children are most in danger of dying in large-scale disasters, particularly homeless and destitute youngsters who are more susceptible to disease.

Nevertheless, it can be avoided and treated

Even little donations from donors, governments, and financial organizations can reduce infant mortality. Long-term socioeconomic benefits for youth in need. With an additional $300 million each year, nearly all of the world’s most disadvantaged children could be helped.

By 2020, 5 million children will have access to a low-cost, life-saving RUTF. Increased RUTF prices due to COVID-19 and violent situations may limit wasting therapy’s spread. RUTF supplies need more funding.

UNICEF response towards the crisis

UNICEF will treat four times the number of acutely malnourished children in southern Madagascar in 2021 as it treated in 2020. Water, sanitation, and hygiene services have been provided to almost 800,000 people. 5,000 of the most disadvantaged households also received humanitarian cash assistance.

Nutrition, safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, disease prevention, and food security are all part of UNICEF’s comprehensive response in the Horn of Africa.

Through the country’s largest single-country appeal of $2 billion, UNICEF hopes to reach 15 million Afghans, including 8 million children, with humanitarian help by 2022.

Children in South Sudan will be treated for 80 percent of their malnutrition by 2021, thanks to UNICEF and its partners. In addition, UNICEF is working with partners to reach a record number of families with preventative programs.

What is UNICEF calling on?

  • Donors and governments must fully support the Global Action Plan to scale up treatment on a large scale, provide long-term funding for services, and incorporate child wasting therapy as part of long-term health and development aid.
  • To address the global hunger crisis, donors should guarantee that funding allocations include specific resources for therapeutic nutritional therapy to meet the immediate requirements of severely malnourished children.
  • In national health systems and services, health and nutrition activities must take precedence over waste programs.
  • All stakeholders should prioritize the treatment of child wasting as a life-saving intervention for the most vulnerable children under the age of two.


Wasting, or “severe acute malnutrition,” remains unrecognized. It’s a preventable cause of death in young children. This number is rising because conflicts and climatic problems limit people’s access to nutritious food. Even in stable political environments, child wasting is rising.

Severe waste: an ignored child survival emergency examines the rise in RUTF expenses and the need to strengthen early prevention and treatment efforts for wasting-prone children.

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