A Band of Hope

It’s a feeling nearly every parent on the planet has experienced: the fear of realizing your child is sick, but not knowing why or how to make them feel better. In some areas of the world, panicked parents reach first for a thermometer, a tool in their medicine cabinet that helps them begin to figure out what’s wrong. Elsewhere, mothers and fathers turn to a simple, color-coded measuring band – a band that acts as a thermometer for malnutrition.

This nutrition thermometer has a technical name: the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) band, but here at Action Against Hunger, we’ve come to think of it as a band of hope.

Here’s how it works: a parent or health worker wraps the band around the middle upper arm of a child younger than five years old. Then, they use the band’s color code to measure how small the child’s arm is – one of the simplest ways of identifying malnutrition.

A child in red – whose arm circumference is less than 11.5 centimeters, about the size of a soda bottle cap – suffers from the deadliest form of hunger: severe acute malnutrition. A measurement in the yellow zone indicates moderate acute malnutrition. For both yellow and red readings, the child is in urgent need of treatment.

More Children Screened, More Lives Saved

Each year, millions of children don’t live to see their fifth birthday – and nearly half the time, malnutrition is a root cause of these preventable deaths. It doesn’t have to be this way: we know how to treat deadly hunger and save lives. In fact, children who complete treatment are cured, 90% of the time.

Despite its effectiveness, fewer than one in four children suffering from life-threatening hunger can access urgent treatment. Many parents don’t know their child is sick until it’s too late, and health centers are often hours away.

One of the ways to ensure more children are treated is to screen more children, more often. Diagnosis is the first step – and the earlier malnutrition is detected, the sooner a child can start their recovery. Additionally, if cases are caught before they become too complicated or severe, the costs for treatment and recovery time are significantly lessened.

Empowering Parents

With Action Against Hunger nutrition staff looking on, a mother measures her child for malnutrition.

Photo: Lys Arango
for Action Against Hunger,
Senegal

Until recently, only trained health workers could screen children for malnutrition using the nutrition measuring band. Health workers cover several households within a wide area and visit families about once a month – meaning that, sometimes, cases are missed or caught too late.

Researchers wondered: what if we could train mothers and fathers to use the nutrition measuring band? What if we could help parents screen their kids, more frequently, right in their own homes?

The evidence has piled up: Parents can use the band, and its simple color code, just as effectively as community health workers. Today, Action Against Hunger and other organizations have integrated this family-led approach into projects in 26 countries.

At a community training, a member of our team trains parents how to use the nutrition band to check their children's health.

Photo: Christophe Da Silva
for Action Against Hunger,
Cameroon

Already, more than 1.3 million mothers have been trained how to screen their children. These mothers – and their partners – can use the band to detect malnutrition and to monitor their child’s recovery at home.

Now, we aim to scale up and to teach even more parents about this simple, lifesaving tool – to help give them the hope of knowing why their child is sick and how to heal them. With our new Band Together campaign, we are rallying people everywhere to join us: to speak up, donate, and wear a red, yellow, and green bracelet that symbolizes this band of hope.

We Band Together to give every family what they need to diagnose their children. We Band Together to treat every malnourished child. We Band Together to save millions of lives – and help every child grow up strong. We Band Together to end hunger. For everyone. For good.

Join us.

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 21 million people in 2018 alone.