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Child Wasting- The Invisible Catastrophe

(FILE) A mother cradles her child suffering from severe malnutrition in the ICU of Bay Regional Hospital in Somalia.

Wasting is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition and causes the death of one out of every five kids under five, or about one million per year.

Child Wasting - The Invisible Catastrophe
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It’s no surprise that largely due to numerous armed conflicts, climate change and increasingly violent weather events, people in many parts of the world are suffering from hunger and malnutrition, even starvation. Less obvious is another burgeoning crisis, child wasting and severe acute malnutrition.

Child wasting, defined as low weight-for-height, is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition, according to UNICEF. Affecting around 13.6 million children, wasting causes the death of one out of every five kids under five, or about one million per year.

Wasting is especially detrimental for children under the age of two. Indeed, it’s important that the mother receives proper nutrition from the beginning of pregnancy and continues until after the child’s second birthday. But if that child is severely undernourished, he or she must be treated with specialized foods, such as Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods.

Last year, the United States, working through USAID, made the largest-ever, one-time contribution of 200 million dollars to the purchase of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods.

“The funding has had a tremendous impact,” said USAID Administrator Samantha Power. “USAID’s contribution helped treat nearly two-thirds of wasting cases across fifteen particular hotspot countries.” The funding helped UNICEF reach 5.5 million children with lifesaving treatment.

Nonetheless, “A growing slate of emergencies threatens to reverse that progress,” said Administrator Power. One of the most pressing needs is a sustainable source of funding.

Another is improving primary health care, and that means more health care workers. “USAID’s efforts training health workers in northern Ghana, shows how effective primary care workers can be at addressing underlying risk factors for wasting,” said Administrator Power.

Still, “Primary health care is only part of the puzzle. It doesn’t matter if a mom knows how to breastfeed her baby if she’s not nourished enough to adequately nurse that baby. It doesn’t matter if she knows which foods her toddlers need to grow if she’s struggling to feed them anything at all. Without long-term efforts to curb the global food and nutrition crisis, previously treated children could return to poor diets and high risks of infections, where they could easily become malnourished once again.”

“We need a sustainable strategy to fight child hunger - one that empowers countries to treat & prevent child wasting,” said Administrator Power in a tweet. “We must invest in tools that work, like Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods, and bolster primary care to build a resilient, hunger-free future.”