Severe acute malnutrition

Severe acute malnutrition

Act quickly

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Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is a life-threatening condition. You must urgently treat children with SAM.

You can identify a child with SAM if they have:

  • a weight-for-height measurement below the -3 line, or
  • an mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) below 11.5 cm.

These children may either have:

  • severe wasting (previously called “marasmus”), or
  • swelling, especially of the face, feet and ankles (previously called “kwashiorkor”).

SAM is usually caused by a recent change in diet. For example, when a child stops breastfeeding or has an illness.

Admit to hospital
Get a child with SAM admitted to hospital. There the condition will be investigated and managed according to standard treatment guidelines. This includes necessary antibiotics, potassium supplements and specialised therapeutic foods.

Monitor recovery
After the child is discharged, you need to monitor their recovery and help prevent the condition from recurring. This should include:

  • follow-up at a PHC facility
  • regular weight and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measurements
  • continued therapeutic foods
  • nutritional counselling and education

Make sure the child receives community and social welfare support. For example, a community food garden and child support (or other) grants.

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