Anemia

A huge threat to about one million adolescent girls in Afghanistan

Ajmal Sherzai
Nutrition
UNICEFAfghanistan/2019/Maroof

21 July 2019

Nangarhar, Afghanistan – Iron deficiency or low levels of iron in a person reduces physical work capacity and decreases the ability to think, reason or understand.  Unfortunately, the impact of this is worse amongst infants and adolescents.

Hasina,17, a grade 12 student at the Alayee High School in Nangarhar was one of the students suffering from this condition and she was not even aware.

“I usually felt tired during the school days, felt dizzy in the class, could not concentrate on my lessons and had difficulty in understanding when being taught,” says Hasina. “At home I always felt exhausted, was not able to do much work and also started having spots on my face.”

Hasina did not know the reasons behind her constant weakness and low levels of concentration

till her teacher gave her the iron and folic acid supplementation.

After using iron and folic acid supplementation, Hasina witnessed positive changes in her learning process and physical capacity.

Nutrition
UNICEFAfghanistan/2019/Maroof
Hasina,17, a grade 12 student at the Alayee High School in Nangarhar takes iron and folic acid supplementation in her class.

“Now I am more active in the class and understand my lessons better. I have also noticed that the spots I had in my face are fading,” says Hasina.

According to teacher Shazia, initially girls were not taking the iron and folic acid supplementation due to the rumors they heard on social media.

“The girls heard that the iron and folic acid supplementation damage their fertility and ruin their future,” says Shazia “I was taking the iron and folic acid first in front of the girls in the class as a way to address these misconceptions as it does not impact fertility.”

Prevalence of anemia among adolescent girls in Afghanistan is shown as 30.9%, which means 1 out of 3 among adolescent girls is anemic.  Research has shown that supervised iron and folic acid given once a week is an effective alternative to daily administration and helps lower the prevalence of anemia in adolescent girls.

To further increase the awareness in families and communities on using iron and folic acid supplementation, UNICEF in coordination with ministries of Health and Education, conducted several media campaigns on the importance of weekly iron and folic acid supplementation (WIFS) in 2017 and 2018.

The absorption of iron is decreased if tea is taken with or close to two to three hours before or after the meal or supplement. Its absorption is enhanced if it is taken at the same time with food or supplements containing vitamin C, such as lemon and oranges.

The weekly iron and folic acid supplementation is a joint programme supported by Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Education of Afghanistan covering all governmental and private schools across the country where adolescent girls from 5-12 grades pursue their education.

So far, UNICEF Afghanistan in collaboration with the Ministries of Education and Health have trained over 15,000 schools staff including WIFS focal point teachers and more than 7,300 religious leaders across Afghanistan.