WHY FOLIC ACID

When a pregnant woman lacks folic acid in her diet, her baby may be born with neural tube closure defects such as spina bifida, or anaemia.

The good news is that – also similar to vitamin A – fortifying foods with folic acid is fairly simple and can be delivered through many of the regional health services already in place.

And providing folic acid as part of micronutrient supplementation to women of child-bearing age ensures those most in need of this important micronutrient are reached.

MI supports a number of projects that add vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, to commonly-used cereal flours such as wheat and maize.

MI is particularly focused on developing and expanding programs that get folic acid to adolescent girls and women of child-bearing age to prevent anaemia and neural tube defects.

  • More than 70 countries around the world have made it the law to fortify foods with folic acid.
  • A 2012 study by MI partner DSM reviewed the effects of folic acid fortification on rates of neural tube defects in nine countries in Africa, North America, South America and the Middle East.  The review found that neural tube defects decreased in all countries after fortification was introduced, in some cases by up to 15%.
  • In 2013, MI’s support ensured that an additional 1.8 million pregnant women received iron and folic acid supplements, and three new countries adopted favourable IFA supplementation policy changes (Kenya, Nigeria and Indonesia).

Some of MI’s folic acid programs include:

  • Working with local partners, international experts and Ministries of Health, and funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, MI launched it’s community-based maternal and newborn health and nutrition (CBMNH-N) project [link] in Kenya, Ethiopia, Niger and Senegal in 2012. This project improves access to maternal and neonatal care, including iron and folic acid (IFA) supplements.
  • Iron and folic acid (IFA) supplements were distributed to pregnant women through community health volunteers in Nepal, and in Bangladesh they were socially marketed to adolescent girls through community health workers. Demonstration projects are underway in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Nigeria.
  • MI has led national folic acid advocacy efforts in India.
Partnerships

We partner with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), UNICEF, and many others including government and private-sector partners to help grain and cooking oil producers fortify their products with folic acid, among other micronutrients.

We also help governments draft legislation to make it mandatory to fortify wheat flour with folic acid and iron.

And we work with the public health system to ensure that folic acid supplements are part of the package of interventions delivered to women of child-bearing age, and pregnant women through routine health services.

Did you know?

Folic acid naturally occurs in leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and whole grains. Similar to vitamin A, many of the foods that contain folic acid are not generally available to those living in poverty in low and middle income countries.