For too many children around the world, hunger is a life-threatening reality. In 2018, 49.5 million children under five years old suffered from acute malnutrition, also known as wasting, and nearly 17 million of those children were severely malnourished.
Over the last decade, the world has made remarkable progress in treating acutely malnourished children: reaching more families in need with care and improving the methods used to help children recover their health. Effective community-based protocols hold enormous promise to scale up treatment around the world.
Still, 3 out of 4 children who suffer from the deadliest form of hunger – severe acute malnutrition – cannot access treatment, leading to a vicious cycle of malnutrition, disease, and poverty. Families with malnourished children face a range of barriers to accessing treatment, beginning at the individual and community level, where there is often low awareness of what acute malnutrition is and how to identify it.
Nearly 1 in 5 of the world’s acutely malnourished children live in East and West Africa.
Even when acute malnutrition is accurately identified in time, parents must frequently take their children to health centers to receive treatment, costing them hours of time and money. In Mali and Niger, for example, more than half of the population lives more than 5 kilometers away from a health facility.
Community health workers and volunteers can help: they are able to effectively provide much-needed health services to remote communities. However, many have not been trained how to treat acute malnutrition, and health systems are often too weak to support capacity-building.
We can change this
Malnutrition is predictable, preventable, and treatable. We have a proven model – already adopted by more than 70 national governments – to reach more children through the Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) approach. With this approach, we can save more lives and prevent the long-term, irreversible consequences in cognitive and physical development that results from malnutrition. As an added benefit, research shows that each dollar invested in malnutrition treatment results in at least $4 in economic returns.
At Action Against Hunger, we know what works. What we need today is a dramatic scale-up of these programs to unlock the potential of community-based approaches to treat millions more acutely malnourished children. By scaling up evidence-based solutions with support from MacArthur 100&Change and in partnership with No Wasted Lives, we can improve community-based care and reach at least five million more children in need across four high-burden countries in East and West Africa: Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, and South Sudan.
We will train and empower more community health workers and volunteers to screen and treat moderately and severely malnourished children in the areas where they live and work through an approach called Integrated Community Care Management (iCCM). We will also partner with mothers, fathers, and other caretakers to give them the tools they need to spot the signs of malnutrition early and to screen their children at home.
Our ultimate goal – to ensure that no malnourished child is left behind – cannot be achieved alone. We must band together with parents, health workers, local governments, corporations, foundations, and the broader public to build a movement committed to reaching every malnourished child.
To that end, we will also establish the first-ever regional nutrition learning hub, the Transformation for Nutrition Center, to improve quality of care, build the capacity of health facility staff to deliver nutrition services, and share our evidence-based learnings with partners. We will work with Governments and Ministries of Health to increase nutrition-specific resources and policies at the national level and ensure that nutrition is a top priority now and in the future.
Over the course of the project, we will reach more than five million children and create a sustainable model that has the potential to increase malnutrition treatment coverage from 25% to 100% – because the world needs a better way to deal with hunger. Together, we are creating it. For everyone. For good.