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Open Access Vitamin A deficiency and child survival in sub-Saharan Africa: A reappraisal of challenges and opportunities

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Abstract:

Background. Children with vitamin A deficiency have higher risk of morbidity and mortality than vitamin A–sufficient children. Estimates on the potential child survival benefits of vitamin A deficiency control are needed for policy and program advocacy.

Objective. To determine the current prevalence of children at risk for vitamin A deficiency in sub-Saharan Africa in order to estimate the potential child-survival benefits of effective and sustained policies and programs for the control of vitamin A deficiency in this region.

Methods. Estimates of the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency generated in 1998, data from 11 nationally representative vitamin A deficiency surveys conducted in sub-Saharan Africa between 1997 and 2003, and the measured effects of vitamin A deficiency on child mortality were combined to estimate the prevalence of children at risk for vitamin A deficiency in sub-Saharan Africa and the potential child-survival benefits of effective and sustained policies and programs for the control of vitamin A deficiency in this region.

Results. Our analysis shows that in the absence of effective and sustained policies and programs for the control of vitamin A deficiency, an estimated 42.4% of children 0 to 59 months of age in sub-Saharan Africa (43.2 million children) are at risk for vitamin A deficiency. Such effective and sustained policy and program action for the control of vitamin A deficiency can bring about a potential 25% reduction in mortality in children 0 to 59 months with respect to 1995 mortality levels (i.e., before the onset of large-scale vitamin A supplementation programs in sub-Saharan Africa).

Conclusions. Effective and sustained control of vitamin A deficiency has the potential to be among the most cost-effective and high-impact child-survival interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. A stronger political commitment and a more appropriate level of investment in the effective control of vitamin A deficiency could make a large contribution toward the attainment of the Millennium Development Goal for the reduction of child mortality rates by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. Among the many challenges that Africa will need to face in the coming years, vitamin A deficiency is one that can be overcome. The need is urgent, and the solutions are known, effective, and affordable.

Keywords: CHILD MORTALITY; CHILD SURVIVAL; SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA; VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Established in 1978, the Food and Nutrition Bulletin (FNB) is a peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation.

    The focus of the journal is to highlight original scientific articles on nutrition research, policy analyses, and state-of-the-art summaries relating to multidisciplinary efforts to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world.

    Food and Nutrition Bulletin's 2012 Impact Factor: 2.106
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