Severe acute malnutrition in Asia

Tahmeed Ahmed, Muttaquina Hossain, Mustafa Mahfuz, Nuzhat Choudhury, Mir Mobarak Hossain, Nita Bhandari, Maung Maung Lin, Prakash Chandra Joshi, Mirak Raj Angdembe, V. Pujitha Wickramasinghe, S. M.Moazzem Hossain, Mohammad Shahjahan, Sugeng Eko Irianto, Sajid Soofi, Zulfiqar Bhutta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is a common condition that kills children and intellectually maims those who survive. Close to 20 million children under the age of 5 years suffer from SAM globally, and about 1 million of them die each year. Much of this burden takes place in Asia. Six countries in Asia together have more than 12 million children suffering from SAM: 0.6 million in Afghanistan, 0.6 million in Bangladesh, 8.0 million in India, 1.2 million in Indonesia, 1.4 million in Pakistan, and 0.6 million in Yemen. This article is based on a review of SAM burden and intervention programs in Asian countries where, despite the huge numbers of children suffering from the condition, the coverage of interventions is either absent on a national scale or poor. Countries in Asia have to recognize SAM as a major problem and mobilize internal resources for its management. Screening of children in the community for SAM and appropriate referral and back referral require good health systems. Improving grassroots services will not only contribute to improving management of SAM, it will also improve infant and young child feeding and nutrition in general. Ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), the key to home management of SAM without complications, is still not endorsed by many countries because of its unavailability in the countries and its cost. It should preferably be produced locally from locally available food ingredients. Countries in Asia that do not have the capacity to produce RUTF from locally available food ingredients can benefit from other countries in the region that can produce it. Health facilities in all high-burden countries should be staffed and equipped to treat children with SAM. A continuous cascade of training of health staff on management of SAM can offset the damage that results from staff attrition or transfers. The basic nutrition interventions, which include breastfeeding, appropriate complementary feeding, micronutrient supplementation, and management of acute malnutrition, should be scaled up in Asian countries that are plagued with the burden of malnutrition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S14-S26
JournalFood and Nutrition Bulletin
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2014


  • Asia
  • Health systems
  • Intervention programs
  • Severe acute malnutrition


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