The Word Health Organization has released international guidelines on vitamin A supplementation to reduce child mortality.
The WHO has developed and published evidence-informed recommendations on the effects and safety of vitamin A supplementation for infants aged 6 months up to children aged 5 years (1). The recommendations were established in accordance with the WHO handbook for guideline development by: analyzing the benefits and risks of vitamin A supplementation, evaluating the evidence, checking the practicability of the intervention in various settings, and costing the financial needs for guideline implementation in different scenarios. Strong evidence was found that vitamin A reduces child mortality through lowering frank deficiency and rates of infectious diseases. The recommendations call for “high dose vitamin A supplementation in infants and children 6–59 months of age in settings where vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem”. In terms of frequency, the administering of this fat-soluble vitamin may be done in a single high dose once every 4–6 months. This makes the implementing supplementation in synergy with other health programs manageable. The WHO remarks that: “This intervention should be used along with other strategies to improve vitamin A intakes, such as dietary diversification and food fortification.”
Member States had requested this guidance to public health strategy, backing their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Vitamin A deficiency is a considerable global health problem that affects about 19 million pregnant women and 190 million preschool-age children – most of them in Africa and South-East Asia. These regions defined by WHO are where the highest risk groups live, particularly in developing countries, as they have higher nutritional needs. Just one of the grievous consequences of vitamin A deficiency is the extraordinary number of 250,000 to 500,000 children who irreversibly lose their sight each year, and even suffer such severe deficiency that many lose their lives.
Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient, critical for the development process of children in their first 5 years of life. Eye health and establishment of the immune system are the striking functions of the multi-purposeful vitamin A in an organism: triggering the optical nerve as retinal, the preformed vitamin A metabolite, as well as promoting cellular differentiation – an eminently important factor for epithelial cells, the body’s main defense against pathogens. Dietary intake of vitamin A is delivered by the consumption of animal products, usually liver and dairy, and also by conversion of beta-carotene, which is found in orange and dark green leafy vegetables in high-concentration. Last but not least, vitamin A enriched foods such as milk and margarine are effective sources.