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U.N. warns of ‘catastrophic’ child malnutrition due to price hikes, Ukraine war

Even before the war and pandemic, 2-in-3 did not have access to the therapeutic food needed to save their lives, UNICEF said.
Image: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

The cost of life-saving treatment for the most severely malnourished children is set to jump by up to 16% due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pandemic disruptions, according to the United Nations’ children’s agency.

The raw ingredients of the ready-to-eat-therapeutic food have leapt in price amid the global food crisis sparked by the war and pandemic, UNICEF said.

Without further funding in the next six months, 600 000 more children may miss out on the essential treatment, which is a high-energy paste made of ingredients including peanuts, oil, sugar and added nutrients.

UNICEF did not specify how much increased spending would be needed to maintain the program. It said a carton of the specialized nutrition containing 150 packets – enough for 6 to 8 weeks to bring a severely malnourished child back to health – goes for about $41 on average.

Alongside the wider pressure on food security, including climate change, the price rise could lead to “catastrophic” levels of severe malnutrition, the children’s agency warned in a statement.

“The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and child suffering from wasting,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

Severe wasting, when children are too thin for their height, affects 13.6 million children under 5 years old, and results in 1-in-5 deaths among this age group.

Even before the war and pandemic, 2-in-3 did not have access to the therapeutic food needed to save their lives, UNICEF said.

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