According to a new review, giving vitamin A capsules to children with vitamin A deficiency can reduce the overall risk of death by 24%.
The meta-analysis of data from 43 randomized controlled trials, representing 215,633 children aged six months to five years, yielded results indicating that vitamin A supplementation is effective in reducing all-cause mortality by 24 percent compared to no treatment, mainly due to a reduction in the number of measles and diarrhea cases (1). The researchers concluded that child morbidity and mortality risk among the 190 million children suffering from vitamin A deficiency around the globe could be reduced and could lead to saving nearly a million lives every year.
Deficiency in vitamin A pre-disposes children to an increased risk of health problems such as respiratory diseases, diarrhea, measles and vision problems, and can eventually lead to death. Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends vitamin A supplements for pregnant mothers and children.
There have been recent disputes regarding the effectiveness of supplementation programs in developing countries. In the new review, supplementation was seen to reduce the incidence of diarrhea by preventing acute diarrhea from becoming chronic. In addition, vitamin A supplementation reduced night blindness and potential precursors to blindness. Moreover, there was a consistent trend supporting the therapeutic effects of vitamin A in reducing measles.
However, the researchers commented that supplementation is not a permanent solution to the problem of vitamin A deficiency: while supplementation may be an immediate solution to deficiency, adequate nutrition and long term solutions to underlying problems are needed in low and middle income countries. To increase dietary intake of vitamin A, fortification of food staples such as rice could provide more permanent relief.