UNICEF appeals for funding to tackle lethal child undernutrition ahead of G7 summit

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Thursday appealed for funding to meet the urgent needs of 8 million children at risk of death from severe undernutrition ahead of this year’s Group of Seven (G7) summit.

Almost 8 million children under 5 in 15 crisis-hit countries are at risk of death from severe wasting, the most visible and lethal form of undernutrition, unless they receive immediate therapeutic food and care, UNICEF said in a press release.

The number is rising by the minute, UNICEF warned, noting that since the start of 2022, the escalating global food crisis has forced an additional 260,000 children, or one child every 60 seconds, to suffer from severe wasting in 15 countries bearing the brunt of the crisis.

The 15 most affected countries include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

Severe wasting children are too thin for their height. Weakened immune systems increase the risk of death among children under 5 who suffer severe wasting by up to 11 times compared to well-nourished children.

“Food aid is critical, but we cannot save starving children with bags of wheat. We need to reach these children now with therapeutic treatment before it is too late,” the press release quoted Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF, as saying.

The price of ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severe wasting has soared by 16 percent in recent weeks due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients.

UNICEF said it is calling for 1.2 billion U.S. dollars to deliver an essential package of nutrition services and care to avert what could be millions of child deaths in the 15 highest burden countries, including prevention programs to protect maternal and child nutrition among pregnant women and young children.

The UN agency said it also seeks funding to prioritize the prevention and treatment of severe wasting in all global food crisis response plans by ensuring budget allocations include preventive nutrition interventions as well as therapeutic food to address the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting.

Leaders to meet at the G7 gathering in Germany have “a small window of opportunity” to act to save lives of the children who are suffering from severe wasting, said Russell.

“There is no time to waste. Waiting for famine to be declared is waiting for children to die,” the UNICEF chief said. ■

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