Continuing care during COVID-19: adopting lifesaving approaches to treat acute malnutrition

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The risk of increasing rates of acute malnutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the urgent need to adapt, and expand access to, acute malnutrition diagnosis and treatment services in humanitarian and fragile contexts.


  • Increased rates of acute malnutrition are an inevitable consequence of COVID-19 and the measures taken to slow its spread – especially in fragile and conflict affected settings where rates of acute malnutrition are already substantially higher than in stable settings.

  • In the face of government-mandated shutdowns, millions of people have lost their income, agriculture harvests and sales have been disrupted, food prices have increased, and aid programs focused on nutrition have been disrupted.

  • Acute malnutrition among children is highly treatable, but the current health facility based model for treating it may not be safe or practical within the COVID-19 context. IRC is therefore recommending malnutrition treatment programs are adapted including simplifying diagnosis and treatment processes; bringing services to the community; introducing low- or no-touch approaches; and ensuring in-patient care is safe.

  • Urgent action is needed to avoid preventable deaths. UN agencies should endorse the adoption of simplified approaches for the early detection and treatment of acute malnutrition as part of COVID-19 response plans and programs; donors should scale-up flexible funding for nutrition; and governments should adapt national malnutrition treatment programs and lift restrictions on the movements of humanitarian personnel, supplies and food.