David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) told attendees at the World Innovation Summit for Health in Doha about a new approach to treating acute malnutrition.

During a keynote speech, Miliband called out the inefficiencies and high costs of the current treatment system and shared details about an innovative approached pioneered by IRC that has the potential to treat millions more malnourished children over the next decade.

In his remarks, Miliband noted that 18 fragile states have acute malnutrition rates above the public health emergency threshold of 10 percent, and between 80 to 90 percent of the 51 million children with acute malnutrition globally have no access to treatment at all.

According to Miliband, the problem is three-fold: an artificially fragmented approach to treatment, a system that brings patients to treatment instead of the other way around, and a lack of investment in nutrition.

Under the current model for treating malnutrition, children are classified into severe and moderate groups, and then enrolled into separate programs and treated with different products administered by different United Nations agencies. This fragmented approach means children rarely get the full benefit of treatment because severe and moderate acute malnutrition therapies are rarely both available in the same place at the same time.

 “Current standard operating procedures are preventing us from identifying and supporting children who need treatment in an efficient and effective manner,” said David Miliband.  “The difference between a child with severe acute malnutrition and moderate acute malnutrition can be small, depending on how closely they sit on the arbitrary dividing line used for classification.”

The IRC has developed and tested a combined, simplified malnutrition treatment protocol that uses a single program and one therapeutic product. Under the combined protocol approach, a child could be assessed, and in the event of either severe or moderate malnutrition, could be treated until full recovery with ready-to-use food, dosed according to the severity of the malnutrition.

 “If we can get political commitment to fragile states, a unified approach by the UN system, Ministry of Health commitment, and fit-for-purpose financing to address child malnutrition – we believe we can drive the next dramatic reductions in child mortality globally,” said Miliband.

Miliband also pointed to the deployment of community health workers as a more effective means to reach and treat children with acute malnutrition in their home and communities without requiring a visit to a health facility, which in fragile and conflict setting is often impossible.

Expanding treatment would not only save more lives, but it would improve long-term health outcomes for affected children, and would allow them to better learn in school and be more economically productive, unhindered by the long-term effects of malnutrition.

To read David Miliband’s full speech, click here

For more information on IRC’s approach to malnutrition, click here