A Global Action plan on Wasting

In March 2020 the Global Action Plan on Child Wasting (GAP) was released. This action plan is a result of the collection action by the Childhood Wasting steering Committee, coordinated by WHO and made up of representatives from FAO, WHO, UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP. UNSCN was pleased to be involved in this initiative which brought together UN agencies, civil society and academia to capture perspectives, expertise and needs to generate a truly global plan to tackle this pervasive form of malnutrition.

Wasting refers to a child who is too thin for his or her height. Wasting is the result of recent rapid weight loss or the failure to gain weight. As poignantly written in the Steering Committees joint statement “As principals of the United Nations humanitarian system, we have all looked into the blank stare and nearly lifeless body of a badly malnourished child, whose ever-so shallow breathing is often the only sign of life. We have all been deeply affected when a child could not be saved.”

A child who is moderately or severely wasted has an increased risk of death, but treatment is possible. Every year, the United Nations provides 10 million children suffering from acute malnutrition (“wasting”) with services they need to recover, including nutrition treatment, treatment of infections such as diarrheal diseases, hygiene and sanitation services, and access to clean water and the nutritious diets needed for heathy growth. Yet the burden of childhood malnutrition remains. The latest joint child estimates prepared by UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank, show that 229 million children suffer from some form of malnutrition with 38 million affected by overweight and obesity, 144 million by stunting and 47 million by wasting. More than two thirds of all wasted children under 5 lived in Asia and more than one quarter lived in Africa.

While many countries are moving in the right direction, progress is too slow to reach the wasting related 2025 World Health Assembly and 2030 Sustainable Development Goal targets. The GAP provides a framework for action to accelerate action. The framework is focused around four critical health outcomes and the pathways to accelerate the delivery of priority actions and create a more enabling environment for their success. The GAP aims to shift the collective focus towards prevention and scaling up evidence-informed treatment through a more sustainable systems-wide approach.

Figure 1. The Global Action Plan on Childhood Wasting framework for action


Following the launch of the GAP, UNICEF will now coordinate the translation of the GAP into a multi-year, multi-country, multi-stakeholder roadmap for action.

The process of developing the GAP has established an effective network and working platform to allow for the steering committee and their partner organizations to rapidly harness the collective expertise and act to minimize the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on childhood malnutrition. This has enabled the joint production of interim guidelines on childhood wasting in the context of COVID-19 through consultation with diverse and active working groups which pull together country and global level perspectives.

Sign up for UNSCN e-alerts and e-newsletters

Sign up