UN Member States Must Scale Up Malnutrition Treatment Programs

Each year, the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) meets to monitor progress toward achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Right now, the world is off track to meet the SDGs, and the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined much of the progress that has been made – including on nutrition. 

Leading international organizations on nutrition, including Action Against Hunger, Concern Worldwide, the Eleanor Crook Foundation, the International Rescue Committee, and World Vision, are urging UN Member States to prioritize scaling up treatment for acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of hunger, also known as wasting. Around the world 50 million children are acutely malnourished, and these numbers are expected to increase as a result of COVID-19. In order for countries to fulfill their commitment to ending malnutrition in all of its forms, governments must scale up wasting treatment programs.

Below is the joint letter to UN Member States.

Dear UN Member States:

As you know, the United Nations High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is being held virtually this week and next (July 7- July 16) with the theme "Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.”

There will be many high-level discussions – including ministerial meetings – to debate where the world stands on the Sustainable Development Goals in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the critical efforts needed to accelerate progress leading up to 2030.

As a leading voice in these discussions, we encourage you to highlight the need for urgent action and funding to address acute malnutrition – also known as wasting – throughout this pandemic and beyond. Wasting remains unacceptably high impacting nearly 50 million children worldwide. This number is expected to increase dramatically as a secondary effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Despite this threat, the HLPF 2020 agenda has overlooked the need to scale up access to high-impact nutrition services including treatment for wasting. A focus on food systems cannot come at the expense of life-saving services if we are going to avoid preventable deaths and achieve our global goals.

This oversight in the agenda is something that you can help to mitigate by including messages on acute malnutrition in any remarks you deliver. We have prepared key points below for your consideration and would be happy to discuss these in more detail.

We hope you will lend your voice to raise the profile of wasting across the HLPF virtual stages.


Action Against Hunger
Concern Worldwide
Eleanor Crook Foundation
International Rescue Committee
World Vision


The State of Acute Malnutrition (Wasting) & COVID-19

  • Acute malnutrition – also known as wasting – remains unacceptably high impacting nearly 50 million children worldwide. 
  • Tragically, undernutrition is the underlying cause of up to 50% of all deaths in children under five and severe wasting increases a child’s risk of death up to 12-fold.
  • Increased rates of wasting are an inevitable consequence of COVID-19 and the measures taken to slow its spread – especially in fragile and conflict affected settings where rates of wasting are already substantially higher than in stable settings.
  • Even before the pandemic, 135 million people faced acute food shortages in 2019.  The World Food Programme now estimates that an additional 130 million people could go hungry in 2020, meaning 265 million people – double that of 2019 – could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year end.  As an extension of this, child wasting may increase as much as 14%.
  • COVID-19 must not divert attention away from life-saving efforts to prevent and treat wasting if the world is to avoid more children dying from the consequences of hunger than COVID-19 itself.

Why Wasting Must Be Prioritized for SDG Decade of Action

  • The world is not on track to reach the global targets on nutrition including “ending malnutrition in all its forms.”  Achieving these nutrition targets are paramount to achieving the SDGs and the ambitious future they represent.
  • We know that the impacts of child wasting on development, society, health and well-being are serious and lasting, for individuals and their families, for communities and for countries. It erodes the quality of life, harms productivity and erodes creativity.
  • Prioritized and accelerated action is needed during this Decade of Action to put the global community back on track for nutrition -- We cannot wait for the end of COVID-19 to change course.

Calls to Action/Recommendations

  • Now more than ever, governments must invest in strengthening essential nutrition actions within health systems and allocating the adequate financing needed to prevent and treat wasting.  Funding for COVID-19 must not come at the expense of funding for nutrition, including funding to scale up access to life-saving treatment services.
  • Urgent action is needed to achieve zero malnutrition by 2030. Efforts need to be made now to ensure that, by the end of the Decade of Action, we’ve left no one behind. This includes accelerating progress toward operationalizing the Global Action Plan on Wasting.

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 more than 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.