WHO Experts Meeting Has Potential to Impact Millions of Malnourished Children

September 29, 2008, Geneva — A World Health Organization meeting to develop new recommendations for the treatment of malnutrition will have a far-reaching impact on the quality of food aid and nutrition programs for infants and young children, according to the medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

MSF called on WHO experts to take this opportunity to raise the standards of food aid and malnutrition programs.

In the areas most chronically devastated by malnutrition, such as South Asia, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa, many families cannot afford access to nutritious food and must survive on cereal porridges that are missing many essential nutrients. However, food aid provided today by international agencies or donors is also mainly cereal-based. These do not include animal source foods such as milk, which contain many of the nutrients young children need.

"We would not provide our own children only cereal porridge, why do we accept a double standard in food aid?" asked Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Executive Director of MSF’s Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. "It would be a tragedy not to seize on this opportunity to raise the nutritional standards of food aid and national programming to include animal source food."

No other condition contributes more to death and illness in children than malnutrition, the underlying cause of death of more than 3.5 million children under five every year in developing countries. Yet programs to prevent children from falling into the most terminal stages of malnutrition have barely changed for the last 30 years.

"MSF has made it a policy to treat malnourished children with at least some animal source food and we are now working toward more comprehensive implementation," said Dr. von Schoen-Angerer. "Hopefully a clear recommendation from these experts will lead to a change to dramatically reduce unnecessary deaths from malnutrition."

The United Nations already has clear recommendations for treating severe acute malnutrition, but only 5% of children in need receive treatment. MSF believes the challenge is to reach young children with high-value, nutritious food before they become dangerously ill.

The WHO experts meeting for "The Dietary Management of Moderate Malnutrition" takes place in Geneva from September 30 – October 3.

MSF has treated over 150,000 malnourished children in 2006 and 2007 in 22 countries with therapeutic and supplemental food.