An additional 6.7 million children under the age of five could suffer from ‘wasting’ — a form of acute malnutrition causing weakness, thinness, and an increased risk of death — in 2020 because of the economic fallout of COVID-19.
A new analysis published in the Lancet medical journal looks at predicted poverty increases to assess the risk. It also considers the expected drop in the numbers of families accessing child health and nutrition services due to lockdowns and cuts.
The report concludes that wasting among children under five in low- and middle-income countries will increase by 14.3% this year. An estimated 80% of these cases would be in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, with over half expected to be in south Asia alone, the research shows.
It says “the unprecedented global social and economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic” is to blame.
According to UNICEF, an estimated 47 million children in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia were suffering from moderate or severe wasting in 2019 — long before the pandemic spread across the world.
The agency defines wasting as 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.”
UNICEF has warned that any increases in wasting will undoubtedly increase the numbers of preventable deaths too.
The condition is an attributed cause of death for one in 10 children under five in low- and middle-income countries because it increases the risk of death from infectious diseases, the Lancet report says.
“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, in response to the findings.
UNICEF — together with leaders from other UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Food Programme, and the World Health Organization — warn that the coronavirus pandemic is undermining progress on nutrition across the world, with the “worst consequences being borne by children.”
The number of people in low- and middle-income countries facing acute food insecurity — meaning they’re on the verge of starvation — will almost double to 265 million by the end of 2020, according to data quoted from the World Food Programme.
Meanwhile, estimates from the International Food Policy Research Institute suggest that an additional 140 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year, surviving on less than US $1.90 per day.
The agencies say they need $2.4 billion in order to protect maternal and child nutrition in the most vulnerable countries from now until the end of the year.
In the UK, UNICEF’s ‘Save Generation Covid’ appeal aims to prevent the coronavirus pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children.
The agency says it is appealing to parents, governments, the public, donors, and the private sector, to ensure that as the spread of the pandemic slows, countries work to mitigate the impact on children.
You can join the movement by taking action here to call on world leaders to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world's most vulnerable communities, including children. You can read more about COVID-19 and how its impacts are being felt around the world here.
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Clean Bandit x Global Citizen: House Party Against Hunger on August 8 will call on world leaders to step up to stop the COVID-19 crisis becoming a food crisis too. Join the campaign to tackle starvation by taking action here — and you could earn a meet and greet with the band.