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Comparison of weight-for-height and mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) in a therapeutic feeding programme in South Sudan: is MUAC alone a sufficient criterion for admission of children at high risk of mortality?

  • Emmanuel Grellety (a1), L Kendall Krause (a2), Manal Shams Eldin (a3), Klaudia Porten (a1) and Sheila Isanaka (a1)...



The present study was performed to describe the operational implications of using mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) as a single admission criterion for treatment of severe acute malnutrition in South Sudan.


We performed a retrospective analysis of routine programme data of children with severe acute malnutrition aged 6–59 months admitted to a therapeutic feeding programme using weight-for-height Z-score (WHZ) and/or MUAC. To understand the implications of using MUAC as a single admission criterion, we compared patient characteristics and treatment outcomes for children admitted with MUAC<115 mm (irrespective of WHZ) v. children admitted with WHZ<−3 and MUAC≥115 mm.


Of 2205 children included for analysis, 719 (32·6 %) were admitted to the programme with MUAC<115 mm and 1486 (67·4 %) with WHZ<−3 and MUAC≥115 mm. Children who would have been admitted using a single MUAC<115 mm criterion were more severely malnourished and more likely to be female and younger. Compared with children admitted with WHZ<−3 and MUAC≥115 mm, children who would have been admitted using MUAC<115 mm were less likely to recover (54 % v. 69 %) and had higher risk of death (4 % v. 1 %), but responded to treatment with greater weight and MUAC gains. MUAC<115 mm would have failed to identify 33 % of deaths, while 98 % were identified by WHZ<−3 alone and 100 % by MUAC<130 mm.


The study shows that MUAC<115 mm identified more severely malnourished children with a higher risk of mortality but failed to identify a third of the children who died. Admission criteria for therapeutic feeding should be adapted to the programmatic context with consideration for both operational and public health implications.


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