Fact Sheet Expert Opinion First Person Photo Essay
UNICEF logo

Immunization

Vitamin A

next

The problem: About vitamin A deficiency

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.

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, countries and communities where the problem exists. Now, there is also more and more evidence that VAD increases the risk of maternal death.

The Solution:  Supplementation, Fortification, Breastfeeding

There are a number of ways to improve the vitamin A status of populations. Vitamin A-rich foods are not always readily accessible to people who need them. In many parts of the industrialized world, food products are fortified to ensure that populations receive adequate amounts of the vitamin. In many countries, children and adults alike take daily vitamin supplements. The following are the fastest and most cost-effective approaches to improving vitamin A status of populations.

Vitamin A supplements can end VAD as a public health problem. Supplementation is:

Supplementation using vitamin A capsules should begin at six months old in areas where children do not get enough vitamin A in their diets. 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 a few cents each and can be distributed through expanded programmes on immunization, National Immunization Days or other public health contacts.

Breastfeeding support is key to reducing VAD among young children. New mothers should receive a high-dose vitamin A supplementation within eights weeks of delivery in areas where deficiency exists.

In some countries, where industrial and commercial infrastructure is adequate, fortification of food staples like flour, sugar and margarine can help end VAD. Fortification can be very cost-effective. 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.

The Impact: vitamin A supplementation saves lives

Improving the vitamin A status of children…

Increases their chances of survival:

Reduces the severity of childhood illnesses:

Other health benefits:

May reduce maternal mortality:

Is proven cost-effective:

Goal

Eliminate vitamin A deficiency by 2010.

Partnership

The Vitamin A Global Initiative is an informal network of donors and international organizations.  Partners include UNICEF, the Micronutrient Initiative (MI), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).