Page last updated at Friday, November 29, 2013 17:17 PM //
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released new treatment guidelines for children under five, who have severe acute malnutrition.
WHO said: “Severe acute malnutrition is when children suffer severe wasting that may or may not be accompanied by swelling of the body with fluid retention.
“It occurs when infants and children do not have adequate energy, protein and micronutrients in their diet, combined with other health problems such as recurrent infections.
“It is diagnosed when the circumference of the upper arm is less than 115 mm or when the weight for height of a child is severely reduced”.
The guidelines made available to the Ghana News Agency on Friday by Fadéla Chaib, WHO Communications Officer said children with severe acute malnutrition are among the most vulnerable people in the world.
The updated WHO guidelines recommend that “children with severe acute malnutrition who do not have health complications that require hospitalization, receive special, high-energy food and antibiotics to treat infection.
This allows them to recover at home with their families. They also give guidance on how to treat them for HIV and, if necessary make recommendations on how to treat severely malnourished infants under six months.
“The guidelines are critical because many national health plans currently overlook children with severe acute malnutrition. This can be fatal. If these children don’t get the right medical and nutritional care, very often they die,” the report quoted Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.
According to the statement the new guidelines supersede those issued by WHO in 1999 which recommended that all severely malnourished children be hospitalized, given fortified formula milk and appropriate treatment including antibiotics.
The statement said the guidelines have been updated to reflect new opportunities and technologies that allow severely malnourished children who have an appetite and no evident medical complications to be effectively treated at home with specially-formulated foods that provide energy and nutrients and antibiotic medicines.
Dr Elizabeth Mason, Director of WHO’s Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health said: “It’s generally better for children and better for their families if they are treated as outpatients…It can be easier for families who need to continue providing and caring for other children, and it allows vulnerable, malnourished children to stay home and avoid the risk of getting hospital infections.”
The new guidelines recommend that children with severe acute malnutrition in countries where HIV is common be routinely tested for the virus, and those who are positive should start on antiretroviral drugs as well as special foods and antibiotics to treat their severe malnutrition.
The other groups whose needs are addressed for the first time in these guidelines are infants under six months with severe acute malnutrition.
WHO recommends that all babies under six months are exclusively breastfed for optimal nutrition and protection against infections; this is particularly important for babies who are severely malnourished.
“Health services should give special support to mothers of these infants to breastfeed as well as treating the child with antibiotics.
“If there is no realistic prospect of a severely malnourished baby being breastfed, the family may need breast milk from another woman, such as a family member, a neighbour, a wet nurse or a milk bank. If this is not possible, they will need infant formula and support to prepare and use it safely,” it said.