The Minister for Health & Family Welfare Professor AFM Ruhul Haque Government of Bangladesh, leading development agencies in Bangladesh and the Canadian High Commissioner for Bangladesh Robert McDougall, launched a new report, “Investing in the Future: A united call to action on vitamin and mineral deficiencies”, today at a ceremony held at the Radisson Water Garden Hotel in Dhaka.
Emphasizing the vital importance of minerals and vitamins in addressing undernutrition, speakers called on all levels of government, food industry leaders and health and development agencies to demonstrate their commitment to children and women in the country by taking to scale micronutrient programmes and increasing investments in life-saving vitamins and minerals.
The report, which was released globally at the 2009 Micronutrient Forum in Beijing, provides tangible recommendations to improve the delivery of supplements and fortified food and improve the health of women and children around the world. This document was prepared by the Micronutrient Initiative, in partnership with the Flour Fortification Initiative, USAID, GAIN, WHO, The World Bank, and UNICEF, with support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). It was the first time that the world´s leaders in developmental nutrition have come together to produce a joint call to action for increased investments in vitamins and minerals.
During the past decade, Bangladesh has made considerable progress in reducing child mortality. High coverage of vitamin A supplementation, at 95%, made a significant contribution to this reduction. The country is working towards sustainability of this programme as it has now become one of the first countries to purchase vitamin A capsules from its own funds. However, considerable vitamin and mineral deficiencies remain. Currently, over 60 per cent of children aged 6 to 24 month and 42 percent of children aged 24 to 59 months are suffering from anemia. Nearly half of pregnant women are anaemic, putting them at greater risk of mortality during childbirth.
“Today we are calling for commitment, coordination and planning for increased micronutrient programming, held together by strong and durable partnerships,” said Venkatesh Mannar, President of the Micronutrient Initiative. “With the low cost of micronutrient interventions and the high returns, the benefit:cost ratio of micronutrient programming is unmatched by any other large-scale health or economic intervention.”
“Good nutrition, especially in the first years of a child´s life, provides lifelong benefits in health, education and productivity, said UNICEF Deputy Representative, Dr Iyorlumun Uhaa. “Affordable and proven micronutrient interventions to address undernutrition exist. We must work collectively to scale up access to multiple micronutrient powder for children in Bangladesh, In this regard, I urge the Government of Bangladesh to consider micronutrient powder as a food supplement and not as a drug and to permit its importation until the local production can meet the demand.”
Key partners in micronutrient interventions include national governments, non-governmental organizations, donors, aid agencies and industry. Research by leading health economists at the Copenhagen Consensus in May 2008, determined that every dollar spent on vitamin A and zinc supplementation programs creates benefits worth more than $17 and, as such it was deemed the most cost effective intervention in any major areas of development.
Key recommendations for Bangladesh include:
- Renewed pool funding for vitamin A capsules and extending support for some line items of the twice yearly national vitamin A campaigns from the pool fund
- Establish Bangladesh as a world leader in scale up of zinc supplementation in diarrhea management for children under five and ensuring zinc supply
- Revision of the salt iodization standards and provision of adequate resources to enforce this legislation to ensure all salt is iodized adequately
- Scaling up availability of multiple micronutrient supplements, such as Multiple Micronutrients Powders for children in the age-group of 6-24 months to be used with complementary foods
- Reestablishing maternal mortality reduction program with iron and folic acid supplementation
- Consolidation of legislation regulating the fortification of food, including setting and monitoring national standards for food fortification programmes (beyond salt)
What is needed now is political will, along with sufficient resources and supplies to make sure that all children, especially those in Bangladesh´s poorest communities, have access to these life-saving micronutrients. Investment now will lead to huge return in healthier, happier and much more productive populations in the future.