A lack of food or essential nutrients causes malnutrition: children’s growth falters and their susceptibility to common diseases increases. The critical age for malnutrition is from six months – when mothers generally start supplementing breast milk – to 24 months. However, children under five, adolescents, pregnant or breastfeeding women, the elderly, and the chronically ill are also vulnerable.

Malnutrition in children is usually diagnosed in two ways: it can be calculated from a ratio using weight and height, or by measurement of the mid-upper arm circumference. According to these measurements and to their clinical state, undernourished children are diagnosed with moderate or severe acute malnutrition.

MSF uses ready-to-use food to treat malnutrition. These ready-to-use foods contain fortified milk powder and deliver all the nutrients that a malnourished child needs to reverse deficiencies and gain weight. With a long shelf-life and requiring no preparation, these nutritional products can be used in all kinds of settings and allow patients to be treated at home, unless they are suffering severe complications. In situations where malnutrition is likely to become severe, MSF takes a preventive approach, distributing nutritional supplements to at-risk children to prevent their condition from deteriorating further.

MSF admitted 76,400 malnourished children to inpatient feeding programmes and registered 109,300 admissions to outpatient feeding programmes in 2019.