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Vitamin A deficiency and malaria

Southern Sudanese health workers give Vitamin A drops to a child in Hiyala, Eastern Equatoria, at the launch of a new 'child survival package' aimed to cut child mortality by a fifth
Southern Sudanese health workers give Vitamin A drops to a child in Hiyala, Eastern Equatoria, at the launch of a new 'child survival package' aimed to cut child mortality by a fifth (Peter Martell/IRIN)

Vitamin A supplements in malaria-endemic areas can help reduce infections in children by one-third, according to the most recent Malaria Journal.

“Malaria and vitamin A deficiency in African children: a vicious circle?” analyzed results from studies dating back to 1995 conducted in Ghana, Papua New Guinea and Burkina Faso.

In Papua New Guinea and Burkina Faso, vitamin A supplements decreased malaria infections by one-third.

Peter Olumese with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Malaria Programme told IRIN that though the relationship between vitamin A deficiency and malaria requires more research, it is clear that vitamin A supplements strengthen children to withstand a wide range of infectious diseases.

“We do not need to wait for all the answers,” said Olumese. “While waiting on results [of further studies into the link], vitamin A supplements can be used to decrease morbidity and mortality in children, including those at risk of malaria.”

Vitamin supplements boost children’s overall immunity and can reduce under-five deaths by up to 30 percent, according to WHO.

Under-five children in Africa and Southeast Asia had the highest levels of vitamin A deficiency from 1995-2005, according to WHO. Almost 150 million children suffered from night blindness and lack of lifesaving biochemicals that come from vitamin A. 

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates it reaches 70 percent of children worldwide at risk for vitamin A deficiency with supplements twice a year, the medically recommended amount. But that leaves one-third who might not be receiving the minimum requirement, WHO’s Olumese told IRIN.

''...When donors leave, so do the vitamin A supplements''

“Vitamin A supplement programming is often run as a donor-funded project and is not tied in with national child health programmes. When donors leave, so do the vitamin A supplements,” he said.

Banda Ndiaye with the non-profit Micronutrient Initiative, which helps governments carry out twice-yearly micronutrient campaigns, told IRIN that health budgets rarely set aside sufficient funds for nutrients. “Resource allocation is very competitive and the basis of allocation may have as much to do with which constituency has more influence [rather] than what is needed most.”

At a 2008 malnutrition conference hosted by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, economists calculated that an annual US$60-million investment in micronutrients, especially vitamin A and zinc, would yield annual benefits of more than $1 billion, including health care cost savings. 

Vitamin A capsules cost on average 2 US cents each.

One high-strength vitamin A supplement every six months can save a child from death and disease, according to Micronutrient Initiative.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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