The Scope of the Problem
When children receive a twice-annual dose of vitamin A, the child mortality rate drops by a range of 12-23% in vitamin A deficient populations. It can also reduce child blindness by up to 70%. For this reason, provision of high-strength vitamin A supplements is recognized as one the most cost-effective ways to improve child survival. Vitamin A supplements are an important part of an integrated package of essential services that promote child health and stop preventable deaths.
One high-strength vitamin A capsule every six months can help protect a child from the death and disease associated with vitamin A deficiency. These capsules cost approximately two cents each and can often be delivered through existing child health programs.
Vitamin A deficiency compromises the immune systems of approximately 40% of the developing world's children under the age of five. Hundreds of millions of children are at increased risk of disease and early death. Vitamin A deficiency increases susceptibility to malaria and diarrheal disease.
While more severe vitamin A deficiency causes impaired vision and blindness, research indicates that even children with mild vitamin A deficiency and no clinical symptoms have 25% to 30% higher death rates.
What MI Is Doing About It
Since 1998, MI has been supporting twice-yearly preventative vitamin A supplementation because it's one of the most cost-effective, established programs that significantly improve child survival. MI, along with UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), USAID, and many other organizations, works closely with national governments to support these programs. By 2009, global coverage with two doses reached more than 77%. Least developed country coverage with two doses reached 87%.
MI and partners in the Global Vitamin A Effort continue working for higher coverage with the aim that every child under 5 who is at risk of vitamin A deficiency can receive a high-strength vitamin A supplement (VAS) every 6 months. MI's efforts in this area include:
- Providing technical support and vitamin A procurement services to countries via UNICEF. In 2011 alone, with funding from CIDA, MI programs arranged the supply of enough vitamin A to meet the needs of 205 million children in over 70 countries.
- Advocating for the inclusion of VAS in child health events as part of an integrated package of essential health services for children.
- Developing resources to help plan, conduct and monitor vitamin A supplementation programs through child health outreach initiatives. See, for example, MI's Vitamin A in Child Health Weeks: A toolkit for Planning Implementing and Monitoring
and National Guidelines for Vitamin A Program in Bangladesh August 2008
- Developing and testing models to overcome social, economic, and geographical barriers so that even the hardest to reach children can receive VAS twice a year.
- Supporting the fortification of food staples, such as oil, with vitamin A and other essential vitamins and minerals.
- Housing the coordinator for the Global Alliance for Vitamin A (GAVA), which aims to reduce child death rates and the consequences of vitamin A deficiency globally.
With additional funding and national commitments we can reach and save the lives of many more children each year, including the hardest to reach in poor and rural areas.