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GOAL Develops Screening Tool to Detect Malnutrition in Babies Under 6 Months


November 22, 2019 • 3 min read

GOAL has developed a new innovative tool that could help save the lives of thousands of malnourished babies in the developing world. It’s hoped the new concept, to be trialled in Ethiopia, could be an important first step in detecting malnutrition for what is considered a highly vulnerable age-group, with infants under six months also suffering from a lack of proper nutrition screening.

The new ‘MAMI-MUAC’ screening tool, a concept developed by GOAL’s global nutrition program technical team, uses the well-known Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) measuring Tape – widely used in the developing world to help identify malnutrition in children aged between 6-59 months.  The method sees the MUAC tape being placed around the left arm of children, with a traffic light measurement system of green, yellow and red used to detect ‘nourished’, ‘moderately acutely malnourished’ and ‘severely acutely malnourished’ respectively. The MUAC tape has been used in what has been termed the ‘Family MUAC’ approach – which trains mothers and other caregivers to identify signs of malnutrition in high-risk family members. Families are then empowered to manage their children’s health and community health workers then have more time to carry out other critical tasks. 

However, at present, validated thresholds for MUAC measurement in infants under 6 months do not yet exist, MUAC measurement in infants under 6 months do not yet exist, meaning this vulnerable age group are not included in community-level nutrition screenings. Alternative means of measurement for babies under six months are also very difficult to use, resulting in a high degree of inaccuracy, as well as a risk of damaging small infants. GOAL has adapted the standard MUAC tape for older children, printing risk markers for 0-6 months on the reverse, and is trialling two MUAC thresholds to identify nutritional risk and to support easy identification in children under six months. GOAL expects to trial the MAMI-MUAC tape for a period of 18 months in Ethiopia.

Hatty Barthorp, a global nutrition advisor with GOAL, said the MAMI-MUAC tape can help many vulnerable communities detect malnutrition in babies under 6 months.  ‘‘Given that the UN estimate that only around 40% of the global population exclusively breastfeed until 6 months, particularly in low-income countries, a significant number of babies under 6 months are already suffering from malnutrition or are at an elevated risk of becoming malnourished. The MAMI-MUAC tape will help with the early identification of this age group, as it is simple and easy to use the tool.’’

Earlier this year, GOAL secured vital funding to continue their work combating infant malnutrition in Ethiopia through the community Management of At-Risk Mothers and Infants (MAMI) programme. GOAL has been working with a team of experts to pioneer this approach to malnutrition management, which uses various community-based systems to care for small infants with malnutrition. GOAL was the first International NGO to trial the innovative new infant nutrition programme which targets infants from birth to age 6 months.

It is hoped the MAMI-MUAC tape can help support this ground-breaking work to tackle malnutrition amongst vulnerable infants worldwide. GOAL was able to able to advance the MAMI-MUAC design thanks to a DropBox Foundation Grant and its nutrition team devised the concept with the support of consultant Mark Mayatt of Brixton Health.