Improving Maternal Child and Adolescent Health

Child Malnutrition and COVID-19: the time to act is now!

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14:00 PM

The Lancet recently featured a series of letters highlighting the “call to action on child malnutrition and COVID-19”, see more at

The unprecedented global social and economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic poses grave risks to the nutritional status and survival of young children in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Of particular concern is an expected increase in child malnutrition, including wasting, due to steep declines in household incomes, changes in the availability and affordability of nutritious foods, and interruptions to health, nutrition, and social protection services.

One in ten deaths among children younger than 5 years in LMICs is attributable to severe wasting because wasted children are at increased risk of mortality from infectious diseases. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 47 million children younger than 5 years were moderately or severely wasted, most living in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The economic, food and health systems disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to continue to exacerbate all forms of malnutrition. Estimates from the International Food Policy Research Institute suggest that because of the pandemic an additional 140 million people will be thrown into living in extreme poverty on less than US$1·90 per day in 2020. According to the World Food Programme, the number of people in LMICs facing acute food insecurity will nearly double to 265 million by the end of 2020. Sharp declines are expected in access to child health and nutrition services, similar to those seen during the 2014–16 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF estimated a 30% overall reduction in essential nutrition services coverage, reaching 75–100% in lockdown contexts, including in fragile countries where there are humanitarian crises.

The Lancet commentary recommends Five urgent actions to protect children's right to nutrition in the COVID-19 pandemic

  1. Safeguard and promote access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets
  2. Invest in improving maternal and child nutrition through pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood
  3. Re-activate and scale-up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting
  4. Maintain the provision of nutritious and safe school meals for vulnerable children
  5. Expand social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets and essential services

UNICEF and the World Food Programme are scaling up efforts to prevent and treat child wasting in response to the impact of covid19:

WHO advice on nutrition:

Nutrition advice for adults during the covid19 outbreak -