The cost of life-saving treatment for the most severely malnourished children is set to jump by up to 16% due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and pandemic disruptions, according to the United Nations' children's agency.
The raw ingredients of the ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) have leapt in price amid the global food crisis sparked by the war and pandemic, UNICEF said.
Without further funding in the next six months, 600,000 more children may miss out on the essential treatment, which is a high-energy paste made of ingredients including peanuts, oil, sugar and added nutrients.
UNICEF said a carton of the specialized nutrition containing 150 packets - enough for 6 to 8 weeks to bring a severely malnourished child back to health - cost about $41 on average before the up to 16% price rise. It will need about $25 million to cover the added cost, the agency said.
Alongside the wider pressure on food security, including climate change, the price rise could lead to "catastrophic" levels of severe malnutrition, the children's agency warned in a statement.
"The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and child suffering from wasting," said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
Severe wasting, when children are too thin for their height, affects 13.6 million children under 5 years old, and results in 1-in-5 deaths among this age group.
Even before the war and pandemic, 2-in-3 did not have access to the therapeutic food needed to save their lives, UNICEF said.