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WHO issues new guideline to tackle acute malnutrition in children under five

WHO and partners are working to counter the consequences of malnutrition, respond to disease outbreaks, and ensure that essential health services can continue. Photo by Martha Tadesse/WHO

The World Health Organization has launched a new guideline on the prevention and management of wasting and nutritional oedema as part of its efforts to advance the global fight against acute malnutrition in children under five years.

According to WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom, the Global Action Plan (GAP) on child wasting recognized the need for updated normative guidance to support governments in the prevention and management of acute malnutrition which saw the organisation develop a comprehensive guideline that provides evidence-based recommendations and good practice statements and will be followed by guidance and tools for implementation.

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“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.”

The latest milestone is a crucial response to the persistent global issue of acute malnutrition, which affects millions of children worldwide.

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 as a critical component of both prevention and management. The recommendations also recognises community health workers as playing a critical role in providing evidence-based care for children with acute malnutrition.

In 2015, the world committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the ambitious target of eliminating malnutrition in all of its forms by 2030.

However, despite these commitments, the proportion of children with acute malnutrition has persisted at a worrying level, affecting an estimated 45 million children under five worldwide in 2022.

In 2022, approximately 7.3 million children received treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM). Although treatment coverage has increased, children with SAM in many of the worst affected countries are still unable to access the full necessary care for them to recover.


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