The care of severely malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa is challenging, especially in HIV-prevalent settings. Recent improvements to facility-based individual case management, and increased community-based management focusing on early identification and high programme coverage have led to reductions in mortality. Further interventions are urgently needed to address resistant mortality, mostly attributable to HIV. This paper explores strategies in three main areas to improve survival for children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM): identifying HIV and improving case management for HIV-infected children; strengthening existing strategies to improve outcomes for all children with SAM, regardless of HIV status; and improving early identification and increasing programme coverage. Although interventions to further improve survival among children with SAM in sub-Saharan Africa must firstly ensure best care for all children, HIV-infected children are at particular risks for mortality. Integration of specific interventions for HIV testing and treatment into SAM care is essential. International guidelines should reflect best evidence, and are in urgent need of updating and adapting to local country context. Effective interventions already exist that can improve survival in children with SAM in HIV-prevalent settings. The challenge is to implement what we know and to research what we do not.