When children suffer from acute malnutrition, their immune systems are so impaired that the risk of death is greatly increased. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), malnutrition is the single greatest threat to the world’s public health, with 178 million malnourished children across the globe.

The critical age for malnutrition is from six months – when mothers generally start supplementing breast milk – to 24 months. However, children under five, adolescents, pregnant or breastfeeding women, the elderly and the chronically ill are also vulnerable.

People become malnourished if they are unable to take in enough or utilise fully the food they eat, due to illnesses such as diarrhoea or other long-standing illnesses, such as measles, HIV and tuberculosis.

We estimate that only three percent of the 20 million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition receive the lifesaving treatment they need.

Diagnosing malnutrition

Malnutrition is diagnosed by comparing standard weights and heights within a given population, or by the measurement of a child’s mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC).

If dietary deficiencies are persistent, children will stop growing and become ‘stunted’ – meaning they have a low height for their age. This is diagnosed as chronic malnutrition.

If they experience weight loss or ‘wasting’ – low weight for one’s height – they are diagnosed as suffering from acute malnutrition.

This occurs when a malnourished person begins to consume his or her own body tissues to obtain needed nutrients.

In the severe acute form, children with kwashiorkor – distended stomachs – can be clinically diagnosed with body swelling irritability and changes in skin pigmentation.

Treating malnutrition

We believe that ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) is the most effective way to treat malnutrition. RUTFs contains fortified milk powder and include all the nutrients a child needs during its development and helps reverse deficiencies and gain weight. RUTFs don’t require water for preparation, which eliminates the risk of contamination with water-borne diseases.

Because of its packaging, RUTFs can be used in all kinds of settings and can be stored for long periods of time. Unless the patient suffers from severe complications, RUTFs also allow patients to be treated at home.

Where malnutrition is likely to become severe, we take a preventative approach by distributing supplementary RUTF to at-risk children.

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