Severe wasting: an overlooked child survival emergency

Globally, 1 in 5 deaths among children under the age of 5 is attributed to severe wasting – also known as severe acute malnutrition – making it one of the top threats to child survival, robbing the lives of more than 1 million children each year. Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) can save children with severe wasting. The total cost to treat a child with RUTF is about US$100. UNICEF is the largest provider of RUTF globally and the provider of first resort of RUTF for children affected by humanitarian crises. UNICEF indicates that the average price of life-saving RUTF is projected to increase by up to 16 per cent over the next six months, which may reduce access to RUTF and put more children’s lives at risk. More immediate and flexible funding is essential to ensure a continuous pipeline of RUTF supplies to save children’s lives. Wasting cases are increasing in areas affected by conflict and climate shocks and the ongoing economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, precisely where the risk of child mortality is already highest. Some countries have seen a 40 per cent or more increase in child wasting since 2016. Reaching virtually every child in need can be achieved with just US$300 million in additional funding – 0.1 per cent of total overseas development assistance (ODA) spent in a year.