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Bangladesh conducts Vitamin A supplementation campaign for 19 million children

Thursday, 8 May 2008. On Saturday May 10, Bangladesh will conduct a National Vitamin A Plus Campaign. About 19 million children aged 1 to 5 years will be reached with life-saving Vitamin A capsules and 17 million children aged 2 to 5 years will receive deworming tablets. Health workers and volunteers will administer Vitamin A at 140,000 sites located in health facilities, health centres, schools, as well as mobile sites (bus, boat and train stations) across the country.

Vitamin A deficiency poses a major threat to the health and survival of children and mothers. Effects of vitamin A deficiency extend much beyond blindness alone. Vitamin A deficiency increases the risk of child deaths from diseases such as measles and diarrhoea. These infections contribute to over one-third of deaths among children aged 1-5 years in Bangladesh.

‘This campaign marks another milestone towards attaining the global goal for sustainable elimination of vitamin A deficiency by the year 2010’, commented Professor Fatima Parveen Chowdhury, Director of the Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN) and Line Director of Micronutrients. “All sectoral partners, including frontline workers and volunteers, are requested to lend their full support to make this campaign a great success in order to ensure better survival of children.”

In countries where mortality among young children is high, vitamin A supplementation (with two doses per year) may be the single most cost-effective child survival intervention. It is estimated that Vitamin A capsules save the lives of over 30,000 children per year in Bangladesh and reduce illness amongst thousands of others.

“It is fortunate that vitamin A supplementation provides a highly cost-effective way of protecting children from vitamin A deficiency. A simple vitamin A capsule, each costing only one Taka, can increase a child’s chances of survival by up to 25 per cent,” said Dr. Iyorlumun Uhaa, Acting Country Representative, UNICEF Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh was recognized globally as a pioneer in the elimination of vitamin A deficiency as the first country in South Asia to integrate vitamin A supplementation of children aged 1-5 years with the Polio National Immunization Days (NIDs) in 1995. It was also one of the first to develop a strategy to continue providing vitamin A supplements to children using a campaign approach after the discontinuation of polio NIDs. This new strategy, the National Vitamin A Plus Campaign, is used to deliver other interventions to children, including deworming tablets (albendazole) and the promotion of child feeding practices.

Furthermore, since 2004 Bangladesh is one of the few countries that has been purchasing vitamin A capsules with its own funds through the National Nutrition Programme and IPHN. Due to efforts of the Government and partners in Bangladesh, the coverage of vitamin A supplementation increased from around 50 per cent in the mid-1990s to 90 per cent in recent years. The National Vitamin A Plus Campaign in Bangladesh can be seen as a model for other countries that are struggling to achieve and maintain high coverage of vitamin A supplementation.

The up-coming campaign is implemented by the IPHN, under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, with collaboration from the Expanded Programme on Immunization. It is supported by UNICEF, the Micronutrient Initiative, Canadian International Development Agency and WHO.

For more information, please contact:
  • Christine Jaulmes, UNICEF Chief Communication and Information, E-mail: cjaulmes@unicef.org  or Iftikhar Chowdhury, UNICEF Communication Officer, e-mail: iachwdhury@unicef.org, Tel:  9336701-10Professor
  • Dr. Fatima Parveen Chowdhury, Director, IPHN, Mohakhali, Dhaka Tel:8821361, Fax: 9898671, e-mail: iphn @bangla.net
     

FACTSHEET: VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY

The problem: Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a global problem. It affects more than 100 million children and is responsible for as many as one out of every four child deaths in regions where the problem exists. There is also increasing evidence that VAD increases the risk of maternal death.

Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of the immune system. Giving vitamin A supplements to children who need them increases their resistance to disease, and improves their chances for survival, growth and development.

The Goal:  Sustainable elimination of vitamin A deficiency by 2010.

The Solution:  Supplementation, fortification, breast-feeding, and consumption of food rich in vitamin A.

There are a number of ways to improve the vitamin A status of populations. Vitamin A enriched foods are not always readily accessible to people who need them. In many parts of the world, food products are fortified to ensure that populations receive adequate amounts of the vitamin. In many countries, children and women who are at risk of vitamin A deficiency are targeted with supplements. The following are the fastest and most cost-effective approaches to improving the vitamin A status of the population.

Supplementation using vitamin A capsules in Bangladesh should begin at 9 months of age. Mortality reduction potential is very high, and the benefits of high-dose supplements far outweigh the very rare and transient side effects. Capsules cost just 1.0 Taka each and can be distributed through expanded programmes on immunization, national immunization days (NIDs) or other public health contacts, such as the National Vitamin A Plus Campaign in Bangladesh.

Breastfeeding support is also vital to reducing Vitamin A deficiency among young children. New mothers in Bangladesh should receive a high-dose vitamin A supplementation within six weeks of every delivery.

In some countries, where industrial and commercial infrastructure is adequate, fortification of food staples like oil, flour, sugar and margarine can help to control and prevent VAD. Fortification can be very cost-effective. A pilot project for the fortification of oil with vitamin A was recently launched in Bangladesh. Dietary improvement, including ensuring regular access to foods that are naturally rich in vitamin A, will be part of a long-term strategy in many countries, such as Bangladesh.

The Impact: Vitamin A supplementation saves lives

Improving the vitamin A status of children increases their chances of survival:

  • Reduces death from measles up to 50 per cent 
  • Reduces death from diarrhea by 40 per cent
  • Reduces overall mortality by 25 per cent

Reduces the severity of childhood illnesses:

  • Less strain on clinic and outpatient services
  • Fewer hospital admissions
  • ontributes to the well-being of children and families

Other health benefits:

  • Prevents night blindness, xerophthalmia, corneal destruction and blindness
  • May reduce birth defects
  • May prevent epithelial and perhaps other types of cancer

May reduce maternal mortality:

  • Increases resistance to infection
  • Helps reduce anemia

Is proven to be cost-effective:

  • Price is only one taka per capsule
  • Reduces health costs by lessening hospital and clinic visits
  • Easily integrated into existing public health and immunization programmes.

 

 

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