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A Time for Continued Resolve for Vitamin A Supplementation

Posted by mjacoby on 16 Feb 2010 at 16:21 GMT

While it is a great accomplishment that “vitamin A-supplementation coverage has increased and blindness due to vitamin A deficiency has been virtually eliminated in many developing countries,” it is critical to remember that this is a fragile victory.

A recent World Health Organization report concludes that one third of pre-school children (190 million children) and 15.3% of pregnant women (19.1 million women) have low serum retinol concentrations (<0.70 umol/L). In addition, 0.9% of children (5.17 million children) and 7.8% of pregnant women (9.75 million women) are affected by night-blindness (WHO, 2009).

This suggests that existing programs, while dramatically reducing the incidence of vitamin A-related blindness, have not yet fully eliminated the risk of vitamin A deficiency. In order for positive trends to continue, increased vitamin A supplementation (VAS) and measles immunization programs must be maintained and strengthened. Success should encourage continued resolve, not complacency.

Additionally, efforts to reach the most vulnerable with VAS, including children 6-11 months of age and children who live in remote rural areas or in crowded urban slums, should be expanded. We also must strengthen other vitamin A deficiency control measures - including the production and consumption of vitamin A-rich foods, advocating for food fortification, and promoting optimal breastfeeding practices - to ensure continued and robust protection against vitamin A deficiency moving forward.

Kathy Spahn
President & CEO
Helen Keller International

No competing interests declared.