An additional 6.7 million children under the age of five could suffer from wasting – and therefore become dangerously undernourished – in 2020 as a result of the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF warned today.
According to an analysis published in The Lancet, 80 per cent of these children would be from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Over half would be from South Asia alone.
"It's been seven months since the first COVID-19 cases were reported and it is increasingly clear that the repercussions of the pandemic are causing more harm to children than the disease itself," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. "Household poverty and food insecurity rates have increased. Essential nutrition services and supply chains have been disrupted. Food prices have soared. As a result, the quality of children's diets has gone down and malnutrition rates will go up."
Wasting is a life-threatening form of malnutrition, which makes children too thin and weak, and puts them at greater risk of dying, poor growth, development and learning. According to UNICEF, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 47million children were already wasted in 2019. Without urgent action, the global number of children suffering from wasting could reach almost 54 million over the course of the year. This would bring global wasting to levels not seen this millennium.
The Lancet analysis finds that the prevalence of wasting among children under the age of five could increase by 14.3 per cent in low- and middle-income countries this year, due to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Such an increase in child malnutrition would translate into over 10,000 additional child deaths per month with over 50 per cent of these deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
The estimated increase in child wasting is only the tip of the iceberg, UN agencies warn. COVID-19 will also increase other forms of malnutrition in children and women, including stunting, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight and obesity as a result of poorer diets and the disruption of nutrition services. Over 250 million children globally are missing the full benefits of vitamin A supplementation due to COVID-19.
In a commentary to The Lancet report, also released today, the heads of UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is undermining nutrition across the world particularly in low- and middle-income countries, with the worst consequences being borne by young children. More children and women are becoming malnourished due to the deteriorating quality of their diets, the interruption of nutrition services, and the shocks created by the pandemic.
Humanitarian agencies immediately need USD $2.4 billion to protect maternal and child nutrition in the most vulnerable countries from now until the end of the year. The heads of the four United Nations agencies appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to protect children's right to nutrition by:Safeguarding access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets Investing decisively in support for maternal and child nutrition Re-activating and scaling up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting Maintaining the provision of nutritious and safe school meals and Expanding social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets
UNICEF's Reimagine campaign aims to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children, especially the most vulnerable children. Through the campaign, UNICEF is issuing an urgent appeal to parents, governments, the public, donors and the private sector to join UNICEF as we seek to respond, recover and reimagine a world currently besieged by the coronavirus:
"We cannot allow children to be the overlooked victims of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Fore. "We must simultaneously think both short and long term, so that we not only address the challenges posed by the pandemic and its secondary impacts on children, but also chart a brighter future for children and young people."