The Lancet: Impacts of COVID-19 on childhood malnutrition and nutrition-related mortality

July 27, 2020

[In a commentary in The Lancet journal, Augustin Flory, managing director of R4D’s nutrition practice, and other coauthors share three takeaways from the Standing Together for Nutrition consortium’s efforts to estimate the scale and reach of nutrition challenges related to COVID-19. Standing Together for Nutrition is a multidisciplinary consortium of nutrition, economics, food, and health systems researchers.]

The unprecedented global social and economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic poses grave risks to the nutritional status and survival of young children in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Of particular concern is an expected increase in child malnutrition, including wasting, due to steep declines in household incomes, changes in the availability and affordability of nutritious foods, and interruptions to health, nutrition, and social protection services.

One in ten deaths among children younger than 5 years in LMICs is attributable to severe wasting because wasted children are at increased risk of mortality from infectious diseases. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 47 million children younger than 5 years were moderately or severely wasted, most living in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

The economic, food, and health systems disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to continue to exacerbate all forms of malnutrition. Estimates from the International Food Policy Research Institute suggest that because of the pandemic an additional 140 million people will be thrown into living in extreme poverty on less than US$1·90 per day in 2020. According to the World Food Programme, the number of people in LMICs facing acute food insecurity will nearly double to 265 million by the end of 2020. Sharp declines are expected in access to child health and nutrition services, similar to those seen during the 2014–16 outbreak of Ebola virus disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF estimated a 30% overall reduction in essential nutrition services coverage, reaching 75–100% in lockdown contexts, including in fragile countries where there are humanitarian crises.

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Photo © USAID/Tanzania

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