Speaking to a standing room only crowd on Tuesday, humanitarian leaders and government officials convened by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and partners called for urgent action and a transformation of the global response to the mounting malnutrition crisis that threatens the lives of millions of children. 

Tuesday’s event held at the sidelines of UNGA, “Promoting Child Survival in the Hunger and Malnutrition Crisis: Tackling Child Wasting and Strengthening Primary Health Care in Humanitarian Settings”, was co-hosted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children and World Vision in partnership with the governments of Kenya, Somalia and the United Kingdom. 

Fueled by factors including the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine and lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity and malnutrition are skyrocketing globally. There are now 45 million children experiencing the worst forms of malnutrition. 

The IRC has recently focused its advocacy on a simplified approach to diagnosing and treating the worst forms of malnutrition. A more streamlined and scalable response to this crisis can help break down some of the barriers that historically prevent 4 in 5 children in need from accessing life-saving treatment.

That approach, also known as the simplified, combined protocol, relies on a color-coded measuring tape to diagnose a child and a nutritional peanut paste known as ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). Central to this approach is the role of Community Health Workers (CHWs), able to bring this lifesaving care directly to affected communities. This protocol is scalable, less expensive and proven to help more than 90 percent of malnourished children treated with it recover and have a chance at life. It has also proven it can be more cost-effective and efficient than many current approaches, with some estimates counting the simplified protocol as costing 20 percent less per child treated.  

With focused, strategic and sustained funding, many of the event’s attendees expressed confidence that the world could make real progress in the fight against hunger and save millions of lives. 

David Miliband, President and CEO of the IRC: 

“The true test for global leaders this week is whether they can show progress against the most basic questions facing vulnerable communities around the world: ‘Can I feed my children and keep them alive?’... But there are solutions. We at IRC have proven that a simplified protocol works better for children, wherever they are in the world.” 

H.E. Ms. Susan Nakhumicha Wafula Cabinet Secretary for Health, Kenya: 

“In Kenya, we are working to implement solutions to prevent child mortality...we are training community health workers to test for acute malnutrition and other illnesses that lead to child deaths…we have employed cost-efficient strategies to increase coverage of acute malnutrition treatment. In West Pokot, the county is transitioning to treating all cases of acute malnutrition in one treatment center, using one treatment product (RUTF). Transitioning to this approach can extend resources to 31% more children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) or 66% more kids suffering from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). To increase the use of efficient treatment protocols for wasting, we kindly request more transparency and accountability from donors and the UN system.” 

The Hon. Yolanda Awel Deng, Minister of Health, South Sudan:  

“The government of South Sudan partnered with the IRC to explore the potential of delivering treatment of uncomplicated wasting through community health workers. The study proved that simplifications to the standard treatment protocol can empower low-literate CHWs to bring treatment for severe acute malnutrition without complications directly to the villages of malnourished children. The use of low-literacy tools showed to be a cost-effective as well as high-quality treatment to children whose main barriers of receiving treatment is the distance to a health center. Simplified dosing, using one product to treat all forms of acute malnutrition, makes it even easier to expand reach through CHWs.” 

Dr. Ali Haji Adan, Minister of Health, Somalia: 

"In Somalia, acute malnutrition affects 2 million children aged under 5 years. Currently, the prevalence of malnutrition among children under 5 years of age is 21 percent. Women and children, in particular, continue to suffer from multiple nutritional challenges. Acute malnutrition can be treated with RUTF that is proven to save lives in the short term. Support is sought for high-impact, cost-effective interventions, as determined best fit by the government of Somalia. In the long term, we also need to prioritize prevention of malnutrition through support of small businesses, agriculture, and the private sector is essential for affected communities. However, sustainable financing surpasses government capacity. If we fail to significantly reduce the number of affected children, severe wasting will continue to limit the extent to which we can reduce child deaths from all causes. So, collaboration with development partners is essential for a sustainable program to combat acute malnutrition. 

"The Government of Somalia is committed to integrating nutrition into the healthcare system, strengthening healthcare structures, and enhancing coordination mechanisms at all levels." 

Sarah Charles, Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance at USAID: 

Sustained financing is always going to be critical in the fight against child malnutrition-ensuring that funding is strategic and efficient is more important now than ever. This means addressing needs in emergency settings, while simultaneously placing a larger focus on prevention through maternal nutrition and support to primary health care services.”

Speakers at the Tuesday event included: