Acute Malnutrition in Children Under Five – As the world continues to grapple with the long-standing challenge of acute malnutrition affecting millions of children under the age of five, the World Health Organization is taking the fight to the next level with the launch of a new WHO guideline on the Prevention and Management of Wasting and Nutritional Oedema (Acute Malnutrition).
In 2015, the global community pledged to work towards the Sustainable Development Goals, including the ambitious goal of eradicating malnutrition in all forms by 2030. Despite these pledges, the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition remains at an alarming level, with an estimated 45 million under five children globally in 2022.
7.3 million children were treated for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in 2022. While SAM treatment coverage has risen, children with SeAM in many of the world’s most severely malnourished countries still lack access to the care they need to heal.
In its GAP (Global Action Plan on Child Wasting), the World Health Organization (WHO) called for updated normative guidelines to support governments in preventing and managing acute malnutrition. WHO responded to this challenge by developing a comprehensive guideline that includes evidence-based recommendations, best practice statements, guidance, and tools for implementation.
“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.” Said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, “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 prevention and management of acute malnutrition and highlights the vital importance of investing in both these aspects to have 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 of caring for mothers and their infants as an interdependent pair;
- Breastfeeding and access to nutrient-dense home diets are a critical component of both prevention and management; and
- Community health workers can play an important role in providing evidence-based care for children with acute malnutrition.
WHO is working closely with UNICEF and the other UN agencies collaborating on GAP to develop pragmatic operational guidance that will help policy-makers, programme managers and health workers implement the guideline. This will be done in collaboration with experienced practitioners and programmers through the convening of an official UNICEF-WHO Technical Advisory Group which will also bring in academics and other key stakeholders to develop and prioritise a research agenda.
In addition, regional and country workshops are ongoing and other activities planned for wide stakeholder involvement in how WHO can support Member States and implementing partners in adapting this global guidance to their specific context for meaningful implementation and impact.