PH sets national guidelines on child malnutrition

Fritzie Rodriguez
PH sets national guidelines on child malnutrition
The Department of Health and Unicef launch the Philippine national guidelines on the management of severe acute malnutrition for children under 5

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Health (DOH) and Unicef launched the country’s first-ever national guidelines on the management of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) for children under 5 years old on Thursday, November 5.

“This is a milestone not only in the Philippines, but also in the region. Other countries will look at this. With these guidelines, we can save millions of children,” said Dr Willibald Zeck, health and nutrition chief of Unicef Philippines.

The guidelines will be used by healthcare providers, the academe, non-governmental organizations, and policymakers alike. It will come in handy not only during disasters and emergencies, but also in recovery and development contexts, according to the DOH.

It serves as a manual for healthcare workers and advocates, detailing the technical and operational management of SAM. It covers the roles of communities and health facilities; matters of financing, logistics, monitoring, reporting, and program implementation. (INFOGRAPHIC: What does malnutrition look like?)

The guidelines aim to support the implementation and expansion of quality treatment for children with SAM – the most severe form of undernutrition in the Philippines.

The guidelines also share lessons from the implementation of the Philippine Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition, among other existing health policies.

Not much changes

The DOH calls the guidelines “historic,” stressing that it is the first of its kind in the Philippines. But some advocates still question whether the government has been doing enough.

Children with SAM have very low weight for their height – known as “severe wasting” – and may experience nutritional edema, according to the World Health Organization. Edema is manifested in swelling, skin lesions, weakness, and irritability.

SAM results from inappropriate nutrition and poor childcare practices. 

There are around 17 million children worldwide suffering from SAM. “These children are estimated to have a greater than 9-fold increased risk of dying compared to a well-nourished child,” the DOH and Unicef reported.

Globally, SAM results in at least half a million deaths each year, which is over one-third of all deaths among children under 5 years old.

For the school year 2015-2016, the Department of Education aims to cover 532,752 severely wasted Filipino children in its 120-day school-based feeding program.

The figures have not changed much since 2013. Malnutrition remains a problem for several Filipino households. The Philippine prevalence of global acute malnutrition even rose from 6.1% in 2008 to 7.3% in 2011, official statistics showed.

The Philippines, advocates say, has been slow in defeating malnutrition. In the past 10 years, prevalence of underweight children has remained virtually unchanged.

The highest prevalence of malnutrition is still observed among the poorest households. Unless treated, SAM can be a life-threatening condition.

Although national policies and programs are in place, health and nutrition may still be compromised, depending on how local chief executives act on the issue, according to DOH Undersecretary Vicente Belizario Jr. (READ: Make hunger and nutrition an election issue) –

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