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Predicting the risk of mortality during hospitalization in sick severely malnourished children using daily evaluation of key clinical warning signs.

By December 1, 2022December 19th, 2022No Comments



Despite adherence to WHO guidelines, inpatient mortality among sick children admitted to hospital with complicated severe acute malnutrition (SAM) remains unacceptably high. Several studies have examined risk factors present at admission for mortality. However, risks may evolve during admission with medical and nutritional treatment or deterioration. Currently, no specific guidance exists for assessing daily treatment response. This study aimed to determine the prognostic value of monitoring clinical signs on a daily basis for assessing mortality risk during hospitalization in children with SAM.


This is a secondary analysis of data from a randomized trial (NCT02246296) among 843 hospitalized children with SAM. Daily clinical signs were prospectively collected during ward rounds. Multivariable extended Cox regression using backward feature selection was performed to identify daily clinical warning signs (CWS) associated with time to death within the first 21 days of hospitalization. Predictive models were subsequently developed, and their prognostic performance evaluated using Harrell’s concordance index (C-index) and time-dependent area under the curve (tAUC).


Inpatient case fatality ratio was 16.3% (n=127). The presence of the following CWS during daily assessment were found to be independent predictors of inpatient mortality: symptomatic hypoglycemia, reduced consciousness, chest indrawing, not able to complete feeds, nutritional edema, diarrhea, and fever. Daily risk scores computed using these 7 CWS together with MUAC<10.5cm at admission as additional CWS predict survival outcome of children with SAM with a C-index of 0.81 (95% CI 0.77–0.86). Moreover, counting signs among the top 5 CWS (reduced consciousness, symptomatic hypoglycemia, chest indrawing, not able to complete foods, and MUAC<10.5cm) provided a simpler tool with similar prognostic performance (C-index of 0.79; 95% CI 0.74–0.84). Having 1 or 2 of these CWS on any day during hospitalization was associated with a 3 or 11-fold increased mortality risk compared with no signs, respectively.


This study provides evidence for structured monitoring of daily CWS as recommended clinical practice as it improves prediction of inpatient mortality among sick children with complicated SAM. We propose a simple counting-tool to guide healthcare workers to assess treatment response for these children.

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